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Hotz lawyer: PS3 hacking case over, DMCA and IP abuse live on


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The legal action between Sony and George Hotz has come to a close, with both sides seemingly happy with the results. Sony has Hotz agreeing not to do bad things to its hardware, and Hotz gets to be left alone and continue with his life. Neither side has admitted any liability in the matter, and things seemed to have worked out... for the best?

Ars Technica spoke with Yasha Heidari, one of Hotz's lawyers, who said the most important thing to take from this case is a knowledge of how large companies strong-arm their opponents when it comes to copyright issues and the DMCA, and to be aware of your rights. The best way to fight back? Don't give companies who do these things your money. The conversation was enlightening on a number of levels.

According to the settlement agreement, Hotz will not be "engaging in any unauthorized access to any SONY PRODUCT under the law," nor will he be "engaging in any unauthorized access to any SONY PRODUCT under the terms of any SCEA or SCEA AFFILIATES' license agreement or terms of use applicable to that SONY PRODUCT, whether or not Hotz has accepted such agreement or terms of use."

The terms of the agreement are listed in detail, and they essentially boil down to the fact that Hotz will not work to get around any Sony encryption, nor will he help others do so in any way. What's odd about this wording is that Hotz has agreed not to use the hardware in any unauthorized way, while Sony did not get a chance to prove that the original charges constituted unauthorized use under the DMCA. The terms used in the agreement were under contention during the case, and those issues were never settled in a legal setting. So the question of what a PS3 owner can legally do with the console she legally acquired is still an open one.

It would have been a long, expensive fight

While many people are disappointed that the case didn't result in precedent-setting vindication for Hotz, Heidari is sympathetic to the decision to settle. "It's easy for someone to stand on the sidelines and want someone else to spend the next five years fighting for something, but once you're in the fight, and you're being called 24/7 and you can't do anything without facing public scrutiny, and it's having tangible effects on your personal life, I think people think differently about it," he told Ars. "People don't remember that George is only 21, and he's fighting a multibillion dollar corporation. It's a hard fight for anyone, much less a single individual."

The other issue is that Sony was more or less silent during the case, while Hotz and his team were available for interviews, helping the press with coverage. "I'm not sure I'd say it helped the case, but that's one of the most significant things I was trying to accomplish with this case, which is to get these issues into the public light," Heidari explained. "I believe it's very important, when it comes to IP issues, to have the public discourse focus on what's taking place."

One of the things Heidari thought it was important to share was the strong-arm tactics companies like Sony use when they invoke the DMCA: seizing property, subpoenaing personal records from companies such as Google and PayPal, and even utilizing the police to invade people's homes in other countries. "Being forced to defend a lawsuit across the country is a big issue for everyone. My client had no notion he would face a legal battle in California," Heidari said. The issue is that people just click accept on online agreements or click that they agree, and suddenly they're facing legal battles across state lines.

Heidari told Ars that he sees a danger in the expansion of intellectual property laws, which were originally meant to foster the growth of original thought. "We have to ask ourselves if [copyright law is] actually promoting the arts and sciences. I believe that it's not. You have to ask yourself if society, in the end, is benefiting from people like George Hotz, prodigies and geniuses who are making creative technologies and innovations. Are there benefits from people like George being sued?" He brought up cases where companies sue people like Hotz and then try to recruit those like him or benefit from their work.

First, be aware. Second, vote with your dollar

"With the current IP laws and the DMCA, end users and consumers are the losers and will continue to be the losers until we pass some effective reforms on these subjects," Heidari said. "These lawsuits happen every day. People are dragged across the country every day. People are having to fight through interpretations of the DMCA every day." It's his belief that this will continue to happen until there is some change in the law, or a larger public outcry.

"The very first thing is to get this into the public discourse, to have people speak about it and have people learn about their rights. If people aren't talking about it and people don't know, it flies under the radar until they're sued." The next step is tricker: putting pressure on lawmakers and promoting reforms in the law, and then having customers vote with their wallets and punish companies who treat their users in ways they don't support. "That's the best way people can send a message saying they don't support a company's actions."

So who won?

Well, no one, unless you count Hotz not getting ground under Sony's boot a "win." Hotz has agreed to not do the things he claimed he never did, based on wording that was under some contention. The stipulation limits his work on Sony's hardware in a number of ways, and Sony was able to send a clear signal that it is willing and able to attack those who it feels compromise its hardware.

Neither side said uncle, but in the end George Hotz is able to walk away knowing that while he may not have wrestled the giant to the ground, he at least gave as good as he got. For a 21 year-old hacker going against a multinational corporation, that's no small thing.

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