U.S. District Judge Susan Illston’s ruled from the bench in Sony’s ongoing legal action against the New Jersey hacker, who goes by GeoHot. The lawsuit is in connection to the 21-year-old being the first to fully hack the 4-year-old console, a jailbreak allowing it to play pirated and home-brewed games.
Hotz posted the code on his website last month, and put a how-to video on YouTube. That landed him in court here on Digital Millennium Copyright Act civil allegations. Among other things, Sony accuses him of trafficking in devices that circumvent controls meant to protect copyrighted works.
In the Thursday hearing, Hotz’ attorney, Stewart Kellar, objected to the judge’s bench order, saying Sony would be able to “observe” the contents of all his client’s files.
“That’s the breaks,” Illston said.
Hotz has already removed the YouTube video and the code from his website to comport with the judge’s earlier orders.
The judge had originally ruled weeks ago that Hotz must surrender all of his computer gear to Sony. But Kellar asked for reconsideration, and a hearing was hastily called Thursday
Illston informed Kellar that it was routine for the entire contents of computers to be searched in a bid to isolate what is being sought, as in child pornography prosecutions.
“Your honor, we’re certainly not dealing with child pornography in this issue,” Kellar replied.
Moments later, the judge responded:
“Here, I find probable cause that your client has got these things on his computer,” she said. “It’s a problem when more than one thing is kept on the computer. I’ll make sure the order is and will be that Sony is only entitled to isolate … the information on the computer that relates to the hacking of the PlayStation.”
The DMCA makes it either a civil or criminal offense to traffic in wares meant to circumvent devices protecting copyrighted works. Performing a similar hack on a mobile phone is lawful.
Sony’s attorney, James Gilliland, was quick to point out to Illston that the mobile phone is not at issue here. “The conduct Mr. Hotz has engaged in is still covered by the DMCA,” he said.
The judge also backed off on an order that Hotz “retrieve” the code from anybody who he may have forwarded it to.
“It’s information. It can’t be retrieved. It’s just not practical,” Illston said. “What would they do, Xerox it and mail it back? ”
Illston said she changed her mind because she was not clearly aware of the details in her earlier order.
“This kind of got away from me and I apologize for that,” she said from the bench.
The judge ordered Sony and Kellar to confer with each other on the parameters of where and when Hotz would allow Sony to sift through his computer. She also ordered him not to delete or modify any files connected to the jailbreak.
Meanwhile, Sony is threatening to sue [.pdf] anybody posting the code, even though Sony accidentally tweeted it earlier this week.
Sony’s attorney, Gilliland, said the Japanese console maker has been sending out an undisclosed number of DMCA “takedown” notices to websites demanding the code’s removal.
Sony is also asking Judge Illston to order Google to surrender the IP addresses [.pdf] and other identifying information of those who have viewed or commented about the jailbreak video on Hotz’ private YouTube page. The game maker is also demanding that Twitter provide the identities of a host of hackers who first unveiled a limited version of the hack in December.
A hearing on that is scheduled next month. Sony is seeking unspecified damages.