EFF's PlayStation 3 PSA: jailbreaking shouldn't be a crime

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is petitioning the US Copyright Office for a DMCA exemption legalizing "jailbreaking" -- modifying the devices you own so that they can run software of your choosing. The Copyright Office holds hearings every three years on DMCA exemptions and these need to be renewed at each hearing.

To highlight the need for a jailbreaking exemption, EFF has made this video showing how Sony shipped its PlayStation 3 with the promise that users could run GNU/Linux on it, a promise that was taken up by many purchasers, including the USAF, who used a room full of PS3s running Linux to make a clustered supercomputer. But Sony changed its mind and revoked the feature after the fact and began to actively pursue legal penalties against researchers who attempted to restore it.

However, in April 2010, Sony’s mandatory firmware update -- version 3.21 -- removed the ability to install "Other OS" -- meaning no more Linux on your PlayStation. To add legal muscle to its firmware, Sony sued several security researchers for publishing information about security holes that would allow users to run Linux on their machines again. Claiming that the research violated the DMCA, Sony asked the court to impound all "circumvention devices" -- which it defines to include not only the defendants' computers, but also all "instructions," i.e., their research and findings.

This means you can set your PlayStation on fire, but you can’t run Linux on hardware you own. To illustrate how ludicrous this is, we made a video illustrating what an owner can do with a PlayStation -- and what Sony contends they can’t.

PlayStation 3 "Other OS" Saga Shows: Jailbreaking Is Not a Crime


    1. There are very few things that you really own,100%, in the sense that you can do exactly what you want with them. EULAs are just one issue; there are thousands of other legal limitations. Here are a few things that are likely to be legal problems: resell your possession, get someone to make an exact copy, carry it on a plane, or allow a child under 5 to use it unsupervised. The EFF campaign just shifts the balance a tiny bit.

  1. The low res pictures! The dissonant soundtrack! I expected better from the EFF, this is terrible! I agree with the message but damn, big fail on presentation.

    1. Probably has something to do with the fact that they’re lawyers not graphic designers, dontcha think? Dunno about you, but I prefer substance over style.

      1. The problem here is the effectiveness of the video.  It doesn’t do a thing to educate or make a clear point that anyone not already aware of the problem would understand.  The production values are so laughable you’re not going to see this posted around social networks or spread in pretty much any other way.  It’s a miracle it was posted here, and most posts are just complaining about how bad the video is.  I’d imagine that’s pretty much the viewing consensus of the video.

        In other words, It’s a waste of the 10 minutes of time someone spent on it using 1997 video technology.There are many, many people contributing time to the EFF.  Not all of them are lawyers.  Some, I imagine, are professional or hobbyist graphic/video artists.  I’m not sure what happened here.

  2. Unfortunately, the video is meaningless to anyone who doesn’t already know that the history of OtherOS. It assumes the viewer already knows that OtherOS was originally a product feature. Anyone else is going to see this as a demand that the ability to run Linux be added/permitted de novo, which they’re likely to be less supportive of.

    Try again, please. It’s an issue worth discussing, but this vid does not advance the discussion.

    My own take on this… I understand that Sony is worried about theft of their game software. I am annoyed that they decided to stop offering OtherOS as a product feature on new units, and I think it’s a foolish move since the folks they’re worried about are also the ones who will find other bypasses, but I can see where they’re coming from.

    Killing it on previously shipped hardware was gratuitously rude,  crude, and socially unacceptable. Whether the license agreement gave them the right to do so or not.

    Fighting to prevent people jailbreaking … The whole closed-platform industry is fighting that issue, and as a developer and hacker I’m less than completely decided. I do agree with the jailbreaking movement’s motto that “if you can’t alter it, you don’t own it.” On the flipside, I can also see the argument from the manufacturer’s point of view that you accepted the license, and that you’re free to purchase products which aren’t hacker-hostile… especially since part of the reason this unit is cheap enough to be worth hacking is that it’s being sold at loss-leader prices with profit taken on the games.

    Would I want to run Linux on one if I bought it? Heck yes; without that I have no interest in the box. (With it, I might buy some games “since I have the system on hand anyway.) Do I think Sony is making the wrong bet? Yes. Do I think they’re legally in the wrong? I Am Not A Lawyer. Do I think they’re morally in the wrong, for new units? … I am honestly not sure.

    The only way I know to make a secure software environment is to encapsulate critical processing within tamper-resistant hardware. That ain’t cheap.

  3. Ever since I found out Sony was spying on their customers, I’ve instituted a personal “Don’t buy Sony” program. I don’t care how good the PS is, how pretty their TV’s look, or how advanced Blu-Ray is. The last Sony product I purchased was a Walkman back in the early 90’s, and I don’t think my life has suffered as a result. I’m not going to reward corporate fascists with my money. 

  4. Hang on, I was under the impression it is still legal to resist updates to run OtherOS, but that resisting updates barred you from PSN.

    I do think removing the Linux option was a lousy move, but I can understand why they don’t want cracked consoles accessing their network, even if it only results in gamers using hacks in online matches. Since PSN is actually their property, I don’t actually see why they can’t set the rules of admission.

    1. I’m not certain, but I think they pushed the update to my system without my consent – either that or I sat on the controller or someone else did it without me knowing.  Regardless, the fact that I can’t revert means that I had to physically remove the drive to get my data and now have a box that no longer does half of what it did when I bought it.

      1. Rolling back updates should be a required option, I agree.

        The workaround is actually fairly simple. Keep an install of the version you want backed up on a separate HDD. They’re standard 2.5″ laptop drives,  swappable without much fuss.  I’m quite surprised an external SATA switching option isn’t available, actually.

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