SAN FRANCISCO, January 27, 2011 — Prize-winning science student and renowned hacker George Hotz was temporarily banned Wednesday from disseminating code that allows PlayStation 3 owners to run software that wasn’t authorized by Sony.
The temporary restraining order against Hotz, a New Jersey resident, was issued by Federal District Court Judge Susan Illston of the Northern District of California. She appeared to have been troubled by jurisdictional issues during a hearing earlier this month, but she was apparently convinced by Sony’s lawyers in their briefs that that was not an issue at this stage of the litigation.
Hotz published the code for his hack on his web site early this January. The code enables people to run third-party applications or pirated games on the PlayStation 3.
He has said that he doesn’t support piracy, and that he tried to make it so that his hack wouldn’t support pirated games.
Nevertheless, Sony responded with a lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California the week after the code was released, asking a judge for its removal, and for the confiscation of Hotz’s computer equipment.
In issuing the order Wednesday, Illston said that Sony had provided substantial evidence that the 21-year-old had violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and that Sony would suffer irreparable harm if the order weren’t issued. The court also found that banning Hotz from disseminating the code is in the public interest.
Earlier this month, Hotz and his lawyer argued that the judge shouldn’t bother issuing the ban because it would not end the availability of the code online.
Indeed, Carnegie Mellon University robotics researcher Dave Touretzky has mirrored Hotz’s web site with the unlocking code.
The DMCA makes it both a civil and criminal offense to traffic in devices that can break through digital locks. Exemptions are granted every few years by the Copyright Office.
Touretzky defended Hotz’s coding activities by equating them to free speech. He pointed to another set of code on the internet that’s still widely available despite the movie industry’s legal efforts.
“Free speech (and free computing) rights exist only for those determined to exercise them. Trying to suppress those rights in the Internet age is like spitting in the wind,” he wrote on his web page. “We will help our friends at Sony understand this by mirroring the geohot jailbreak files at Carnegie Mellon.”
Touretzky clarified that he was speaking only for himself and not on behalf of the university.