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George Hotz

Judge Bans Hacker From Disseminating PlayStation Unlocking Code

in Copyright by

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.

Renowned Hacker Says PlayStation Suit Highlights Absurdity of Digital Copyright Law

in Copyright/Intellectual Property by

A reknowned hacker and 21-year-old whiz kid who was the first to unlock an iPhone says in a Thursday cable television interview that Sony’s lawsuit against him for his latest Sony PlayStation 3 hack only serves to highlight the absurdity of a landmark digital copyright law.

Speaking on G4 television Thursday, George Hotz wondered why it’s legal to hack, or jail-break Apple’s iPhone, but not Sony’s PlayStation 3.

“I think this case is about a lot more than what I did and me,” he told G4 Attack of the Show’s host Kevin Pereira. “It’s about whether you really own that device that you purchased.”

“Currently, the difference is that the [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] says specifically mobile phones, but I think the same precedent should apply to whatever closed system [there is] where the manufacturers controls all the software that runs on it … if you can jailbreak one closed system, why can’t you jailbreak another?” he asked.

Hotz published the code for his hack on his web site last week. The code enables people to run third-party applications or pirated games on the PlayStation 3.

He said that he doesn’t support piracy, and that he tried to make it so that his hack wouldn’t support pirated games.

“I made a specific effort while I was working on this to try to enable homebrew without enabling things I do not support, like piracy,” he told Pereira.

Sony responded with a lawsuit filed in the Northern District of California Tuesday, asking a judge for the removal of the code and the confiscation of Hotz’s computer equipment.

A hearing over the issue is scheduled to take place today at 9 a.m.

Hotz’s lawyer told the judge in a Thursday filing that the procedure is pointless because the code has already spread across the internet.

Last July, the U.S. Copyright Office explicitly exempted iPhone application developers and anyone else from being sued for breaking through the encryption on the iPhone’s operating system in order to run third party applications not approved by iPhone maker Apple.

Under the DMCA it can be a civil and criminal offense to traffic in devices that can break through digital locks.

The U.S. Copyright Office revisits the issue every three years and considers new situations and grants new exceptions to the anti-circumvention rule as specifics are presented to the office for rule-making.

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