Judge Delays Ruling on PlayStation Hack

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge here on Friday put off deciding whether PlayStation 3 hacker George Hotz should surrender his computer gear as part of a lawsuit from console-maker Sony.

Sony sued Hotz on Tuesday, alleging Hotz’ posting of the code to crack the PlayStation 3 was a breach of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s anti-circumvention provisions. Sony, which is also seeking unspecified monetary damages, also wanted Hotz to remove any code the New Jersey man had uploaded to the internet last week.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston, without deciding any of the merits of Sony’s DMCA claim and other allegations, said she was unsure whether the lawsuit should even be tried in her courtroom. She wondered aloud whether the case should be aired in the 21-year-old’s home state of New Jersey, where the hacking took place.

“I’m really worried about the jurisdictional question,” the judge said from the bench during a 20-minute hearing.

Sony’s attorney, James Gilliland Jr., argued the case could proceed in San Francisco because Hotz posted the hack on Twitter and YouTube, which are based in California. And Gilliland said Hotz received donations for the hack through PayPal, also based in California — an allegation Hotz’ attorney denied.

But if using Twitter or Facebook is enough to bring a case to San Francisco, “the entire universe would be subject to my jurisdiction,” the judge told the Sony attorney about his argument.

Gilliland countered, arguing that the PlayStation’s terms-of-service agreement demands that legal disputes be settled in federal court here, near where Sony Computer Entertainment America is based.

In the end, Judge Illston said she would rule at an undisclosed time.

“Serious questions have been raised here,” she said.

Hotz accessed the so-called “metldr keys” and obtained root access to trick the PS3 into running software not approved by Sony. He published the code a week ago, and was greeted Tuesday with a lawsuit from Sony, which has sold 41 million PS3 units since the console’s 2006 debut. The code allows a user to play pirated and homebrew software on the console, and has spread across the net like wildfire.

In an e-mail, Hotz said the case “doesn’t have any basis.”

“I am a firm believer in digital rights. I would expect a company that prides itself on intellectual property to be well-versed in the provisions of the law, so I am disappointed in Sony’s current action. I have spoken with legal counsel and I feel comfortable that Sony’s action against me doesn’t have any basis,” he wrote.

The DMCA makes it either a civil or criminal offense to traffic in wares meant to circumvent devices protecting copyrighted works.

But hacking or jailbreaking an iPhone so it will run apps not authorized by Apple is neither a civil nor criminal offense. The U.S. Copyright Office made that activity lawful in July.

Photo: PlayStation 3 hacker George Hotz. /courtesy of George Hotz