Geohotz lawyers himself up in PS3 legal wrangles

The legal team representing George Hotz, the 21-year-old computer prodigy who left electronics giant Sony with egg on its face after he disclosed the key used to lock the DRM in the PlayStation 3 console, has declared his intention to fight Sony's lawsuit.

George Hotz, also known as geohot, came to Sony's attention by publicising the signing key used to lock down the digital rights management system in the PS3, which Sony uses to prevent third-party software - and illegitimately downloaded games - from running.

Despite publishing a third-party firmware signed with the key, which has since been used to run pirated games on Sony's flagship console, Hotz has always insisted that his work is simply to restore the 'Install Other OS' feature that was removed by Sony - leaving many who had bought the PS3 to play with Linux ports on the IBM-designed Cell processor to choose between no Linux or no new games.

Sony, for its part, launched its cadre of attack lawyers at the problem, targeting Hotz, a pair of hackers working under the codename fail0verflow who first discovered the weakness that allowed the key to be derived, and a hundred 'John Does' who had discussed the key and its implications on Internet forums.

Hotz, sensibly, has lawyered up himself, and is being represented in the case by Stewart Kellar - a self-styled 'e-ttorney at law' - and Yasha Heidari of the firm Heidari Power Law Group, who state that the case will be vigorously defended.

Kellar claims that Sony's actions in filing the case demonstrate the company's true intentions: "This case is not about Sony attempting to protect its intellectual property or otherwise seek bona fide relief from the court. Rather, it's an attempt to send a message that any individual using Sony hardware in a way Sony does not deem appropriate will result in harsh legal consequences from a multi-billion dollar company, irrespective of any legal basis or authority for such action."

Heidari adds: "I think it is quite telling that Sony, [which] is legally required to provide notice to Mr. Hotz before seeking any special relief with the Court, decided to e-mail Mr. Hotz a copy of [its] motion at 7 pm when a hearing was scheduled for the next morning at 9 am in California, while Mr. Hotz does not even live in California. Sony is seeking various unreasonable relief, such as seizing Mr. Hotz's personal property and computers. Luckily, the Court postponed the hearing."

It's not just Hotz who should be worried about the outcome of the case, however. Heidari claims that Sony's actions could have major implications for general consumer rights: "While most companies issue firmware upgrades to increase a product's abilities over its life cycle, Sony has taken the unacceptable and draconian approach of decreasing the PS3's capabilities by actually destroying a core feature of the PS3.

"Imagine taking in your car for an oil change and having the manufacturer remove your car's air conditioner, radio, and half its horsepower because of fears that other hypothetical individuals might abuse their vehicles. It just doesn't make any sense, and it's a slap in the face to the consumers that put their support behind the product."

Kellar is confident, however, that the court will deny Sony's motion, stating: "This case rests on Sony's misguided belief that it has the unfettered ability to control how consumers use the products they legitimately purchase."

With the hearing postponed due to Sony's 'unreasonable' demands on Hotz's time, it could be a while before we find out if the hacker - and his compatriots - are off the hook.