Hacker Challenging Court Order to Surrender Computer Gear to Sony

Hacker George Hotz must surrender his computer gear to Sony next week

The lawyer representing a hacker who published the first major PlayStation 3 jailbreak on the internet said Sunday he would challenge a federal judge’s order requiring his client surrender his computer gear to console-maker Sony.

New Jersey’s George Hotz, well-known in the jailbreaking community for unlocking the iPhone and other exploits, had published the jailbreak code on his website and on YouTube a month ago.

Sony, the maker of the 4-year-old console, sued Hotz in San Francisco federal court demanding a judge order him to remove the code. Sony also requested that the 21-year-old computer consultant surrender “any and all computer hardware and peripherals containing circumvention devices, technologies, programs, parts thereof, or other unlawful material, including but not limited to code and software, hard disc drives, computer software, inventory of CD-ROMS, computer diskettes, or other material containing circumvention devices, technologies, programs, parts thereof, or other unlawful material.”

The judge’s Thursday ruling (.pdf) did not sit well with Hotz’ attorney, Stewart Kellar of San Francisco.

“The information sought at issue is less than 100 kilobytes of data. Mr. Hotz has terabytes of storage devices,” Kellar said in a Sunday telephone interview. “Impounding his computers, it’s like starting a forest fire to cut down a single tree.”

Within days, Kellar said he would petition U.S. District Judge Susan Illston to reconsider her ruling — which came in the form of a temporary restraining order requiring Hotz surrender the equipment next week. Hotz, he said, has already abided by Illston’s decision ordering him to remove the code from his website and YouTube.

That said, the code has spread like wildfire. Yet Illston appears to be ordering Hotz to make sure all the code is eliminated from the net.

The defendant, Illston ruled, “shall retrieve” code “which he has previously delivered or communicated.”

Kellar said that was impossible. “Mr. Hotz can’t retrieve the internet,” he said.

Hotz, who goes by the online handle “Geohot,” accessed the so-called “metldr keys” or root keys that trick the PS3 system into running unauthorized programs, like pirated or homebrewed games. It was the first, full-scale root-level firmware hack of the console.

Sony, in its lawsuit, alleged the console jailbreak breached the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and other laws, and would eat into game sales for the 41 million PS3 units sold. Illston agreed that Hotz’ activities likely violated the DMCA, and made her order pending more litigation in the weeks-old case.

The DMCA makes it either a civil or criminal offense to traffic in wares meant to circumvent devices protecting copyrighted works. Ironically, performing a similar hack on a mobile phone is lawful. The U.S. Copyright Office exempted cell phone jailbreaking from being covered by the DMCA.

“At the heart of this whole issue is whether you truly own the device you purchased,” Kellar said.

Illston also tentatively agreed with Sony’s complaint that Hotz likely breached the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by acquiring unauthorized access to the game console, access that Sony forbids.

That act, too, can be either a civil or criminal violation. It was unsuccessfully used to prosecute Lori Drew in the country’s first cyberbullying prosecution in 2009.

Sony, which is seeking unspecified monetary damages, has just released a firmware update designed to nullify Hotz’ code.

Photo: Courtesy of George Hotz