Sony recently took legal action against a number of ‘hackers’ after they released security codes for the PlayStation 3. It says that this will enable owners to play pirated games, but is suing them the right approach?
Last month a group called fail0verflow discovered the PS3‘s private encryption keys, which Sony uses to validate software that’s run on the games console. With these keys individuals could use them to bypass copyright controls and run their own ‘homebrew’ software on the PS3.
Although this technique could lead to the pirating of video games, fail0verflow was initially attracted to restore the PlayStation 3’s ability to run other operating systems (OS), such as Linux. This would let owners use the console more like a traditional computer.
This was actually an original selling point for the system, but was later removed by Sony due to ‘security concerns’. Some might say that Sony openly encouraged modding of the PS3 by offering the capability to install another OS in the first place, but nevertheless, the company got cold feet.
Sony sues PS3 hackers
And so, the reintroduction of Linux lets the homebrew community create programs and tools outside of those made available through official channels.
Of course, the security keys could also be used to let illegally copied games be played on the system. This has led Sony to accuse both fail0verflow and infamous iPhone jailbreaker George Hotz of fraud and copyright infringement.
You can easily understand Sony’s panic in these areas, but will legal action against these few actually stop dedicated modders from exploiting the system and running their own applications? And could this possibility do anything about the information that’s already been released in the public domain?
Should tech buyers be able to ‘mod’?
Conversely, Microsoft recently met with a team who ‘jailbroke’ their recently released Windows Phone 7. They discussed the future of development on the mobile software, and even went so far as to present them all with t-shirts advertising their accomplishment.
Microsoft also offered Hotz a free Windows Phone 7, encouraging him to build new applications for it. Coming so soon after the media coverage of Sony’s legal action, you can’t help but feel that it might just be a cynical PR stunt, but it does show the other side of the coin.
Do you think you should be stopped from tinkering with a tech product you’ve bought, especially if you don’t intend to use it for pirated content? The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group defending digital civil liberties, thinks Sony has set a dangerous precedent by suing these ‘hackers':
‘Once you buy a computer, it’s yours. It shouldn’t be a crime for you to access your own computer, regardless of whether Sony or any other company likes what you’re doing.’
Modding gaming consoles is nothing new, and the security features of each new generation are always swiftly circumvented by those dedicated enough to exploit any weaknesses in the hardware and software.
The question for games companies like Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft is now whether they should take a hard line with hackers, or encourage them to develop innovative tools and apps for their community.