Sony Settles in Linux Battle

When Sony released its PlayStation 3 console in 2006, most fans were excited by the enhanced graphics and processing power, but a small (yet significant) group of buyers was excited about an entirely different feature. The PS3 allowed users to install an alternative operating system on their machines—a feature they called Other OS.

Users were free to choose from several operating systems, including Linux. And, it wasn't the first time Sony had released a Linux-compatible console. The PlayStation 2 also supported alternative operating systems, and Sony had promoted the fact heavily in its marketing.

The PS3's Other OS ran inside a VM, and it had limited access to the PS3's hardware. Nevertheless, it was a great opportunity to experiment with cutting-edge gaming hardware. For bedroom game developers, it was a dream come true.

It also meant console owners could run desktop apps on their TVs. For users with modest needs, it meant they could run an office suite or graphics application without having to invest in a separate PC.

In 2010, Sony lost a lot of fans by deleting the feature with a firmware update, saying it was removing the feature to prevent piracy. But, many console owners were enraged.

After all, the official support for Linux was one of the reasons why they bought the consoles in the first place. Now it had been taken away, so they felt cheated and betrayed.

Still, Sony didn't seem too worried. After all, most PS3 owners were completely unaware of the Other OS feature. So what are a few disgruntled owners to a tech giant?

Within a few weeks, this "insignificant" minority launched a class action suit against Sony. It was the first shot in an ugly legal battle that has dragged on for more than six years.

While the legal battles were raging in court, PS3 owners also attacked the problem directly. A number of workarounds and hacks were developed to circumvent the firmware update process, and Geohot (George Hotz) released a hack to reinstate Other OS.

In 2011, Sony retaliated on two fronts. First, the company started banning users who had "hacked" their PlayStation consoles. At the same time, Sony filed suits against several individual PS3 owners, including Hotz, for jailbreaking its machines.

According to the firm, these users had harmed Sony immeasurably by installing "unauthorized" software. In jailbreaking their property, those users apparently had violated the DMCA, the CFAA, committed trespass and broken their contracts with Sony.

Hotz and Sony settled out of court, and the terms of the settlement banned Hotz from hacking Sony products in the future.

In the same year, the class action suit against Sony was dismissed from court. The judge said the plaintiffs had failed to provide relevant facts or explain why Sony should be held liable.

Although it appeared Sony was winning, the battle was far from over. In 2014, the decision was overruled. This time, the judge ruled that the claims were clear and sufficient. Sony was dragged back into the courtroom to defend its actions.

This week, Sony has thrown in the towel and settled. Although the settlement has not yet been approved by the judge, it is available here

The settlement means that 10 million PS3 owners who were affected by the firmware update are entitled to a payout of $55. But, strings are attached—claimants must prove that they used Other OS feature.

So the question now is, how would you prove you used Linux on your PS3?

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