This week, Sony made a statement regarding the “jailbreaking” of the code of the Playstation 3. While this is superficially only of interest to the gaming community, the entire court case speaks to an emergent issue surrounding the rights and privileges of any electronics consumer.
What rights do we have when we purchase something in how we use it and, furthermore, what rights are granted to the conglomerates that provide these products to us?
The background of this case is very interesting, while the particulars are fantastically boring to anyone not in the technology industry. Sony releases their Playstation gaming console – as well as DVD and Blu-Ray player – preloaded with a certain software package. It is very similar to purchasing a computer that comes out of the box with a particular software setup in order to allow it to run. What has happened is that a group managed to bypass the basic software configuration and gain access to the root directory of the Playstation, which allows the user to upload any software they choose, rather than merely the proprietary software that Sony distributes with the console.
Since computers are the best parallel for this type of activity, and programs and operating systems are deleted, removed, added, and changed on a regular basis, it seems that this should be of little cause for concern. The harmless description of accessing the software that came on the hardware that they bought and paid for makes the most reasonable reaction: “Who the hell cares? If the man wanted to add code or delete it or change the way his Playstation worked, why shouldn’t he be allowed to do so?”
The problem that arises is the potentially harmful ways this information can be used. The software loaded onto the Playstation console prevents Playstation games from being ripped by the device and then recopied. It has safeguards in place to prevent copied or illegal games from being played on it, as well as the unauthorized use of copyrighted materials – such as movies – from being copied by the device. In short, it prevents the Playstation from being a hub of scum and villainy used by the digital pirate community.
It seems like a very simple solution to most of us: we bought it with our money, what we do with it is our business. Sony contends that the consumer bought the hardware, and what they choose to do with that is their business, while the software that is licensed with the device does not belong to anyone but Sony.
Having given the basic background, here is the statement that was issued by Sony this week:
“Notice: Unauthorized circumvention devices for the PlayStation 3 system have been recently released by hackers. These devices permit the use of unauthorized or pirated software. Use of such devices or software violates the terms of the ‘System Software License Agreement for the PlayStation 3 System’ and the ‘Terms of Services and User Agreement’ for the PlayStation Network/Qriocity and its Community Code of Conduct provisions. Violation of the System Software License Agreement for the PlayStation 3 System invalidates the consumer guarantee for that system. In addition, copying or playing pirated software is a violation of International Copyright Laws. Consumers using circumvention devices or running unauthorized or pirated software will have access to the PlayStation Network and access to Qriocity services through PlayStation 3 system terminated permanently.
“To avoid this, consumers must immediately cease use and remove all circumvention devices and delete all unauthorized or pirated software from their PlayStation 3 systems.”
It quickly becomes clear how insidious the intent of some using “circumvention devices.” Most notably, Sony is concerned about the dazzling harm that could come to their gaming market if users can bypass Sony’s protocols, digitally copy their Playstation games and then distribute them. It is an understandable fear. The market of the gaming industry is huge, and growing exponentially with every generation. To be undermined by these so-called “jailbroken” machines could be an ugly, and potentially fatal flaw in the device. Naturally, that is assuming a huge commercial cataclysm, but it could possibly happen.
The problem arises when Sony declares that it can and cannot tell us what we can and cannot do with the devices we have purchased. Apple was not happy when some of us (certainly no one I know or could allegedly know) jailbroke the iPhone to work on networks other than AT&T and then unlocked them again to allow unsanctioned applications to work on the phones, but they were generally reasonable, happily took their 30 pieces of silver for the device, and declared that any jailbroken iPhone had been voided of any potential warranty or Apple support.
The issue that Sony is having is that they have no way of knowing if their code has been violated. They believed that their programming was unbreakable. That hubris has them in a tizzy about what they should do now. Rather than trying to be reasonable and move forward, they have begun this campaign of saber-rattling to cow consumers into doing nothing with their Playstation, lest they incur the wrath of Sony, high atop its throne in the lands of Mordor.
Hell, they even have a device that is actually called the Playstation Eye.
My feeling on this is that I welcome their prosecution of anyone caught distributing illegal Playstation games or any other copyrighted material. Disallow support of any Playstation that has been tampered with. Those are their prerogative. However, do not tell people they cannot change their own devices. If I could not change the operating system on my computer, I would be enraged. If I hate the way my PS3 or Wii, or Xbox, DVD Player, DVR, Stereo, or phone works, I should be allowed to do something about it without fear of legal persecution. They are my devices to run how I see fit. If I engage in illegal activity, you can punish me for those crimes.
It is the same idea as putting software in place to degrade the print quality in order to disallow counterfeit bills from being made on high-end printers. You can do it, sure, but you are now requiring the commercial community to adhere to your standards because you can’t think of a better way to do it. Don’t be mad that you are behind the times on innovation.
Part of my problem comes from the rebellious truth that I buy things in order to use them the way I think they should be used. Sometimes that requires a new operating system, new apps, hacked add-ons, and whatever aftermarket peripherals I feel like soldering into place. My PS3 looks like it just got done filming a rough three-way for Borg triple-X with an equalizer and DVR. It is one of the beauties of a free-market, and right there are the words that corporations love to invoke when it behooves them, and hate when it means their self-interest suffers: “Free Market.”
I am avoiding the insertion of colorful expletive in the name of “journalistic integrity” or some such other hogwash pretention.
Part of my problem comes from Sony’s “take my ball and go home” attitude. Don’t be mad that someone figured out your toy, and they were ingenious enough to circumvent your “unsinkable” code. Why was there no contingency plan in place for when this happened? Pride before a fall, Sony. I dislike litigious tattletales, and running to the legal system with your lip stuck out because someone is using their device – which they paid you for – in a way that you do not approve of is unseemly, unprofessional, childish, and wasteful. Pay your design team more than your legal team and this problem would never have materialized.