Supporters rally to help PS3 hacker

Strong response to plea for help in Sony case, defendant George Hotz claims

A hacker sued by Sony for jailbreaking its PlayStation 3 game claims that he's raised enough money to begin his defense efforts just two days after launching an online appeal for donations.

In a blog post on Monday, George Hotz, 21, thanked supporters and announced that the first round of donations to his cause has been closed.

"I have enough to cover my legal fees for the time being," Hotz wrote. "For now, the best thing you can do is spread the word" about his case.

In an interview with Computerworld on Tuesday, Hotz' attorney, Stewart Kellar confirmed that the fund-raising effort has been closed. "He closed it after he felt that he had received enough donations," Kellar said.

Kellar said that he has filed a motion asking the San Francisco federal court to dismiss the case because Hotz is a New Jersey native and therefore not under the jurisdiction of the California court in this case.

Hotz who is already known for jailbreaking the iPhone, is one of three named individuals in a lawsuit filed by Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. in federal court in San Francisco.

The lawsuit, filed in January, alleges that Hotz and members of a group of hackers calling themselves Failoverflow circumvented PS3's anti-tampering measures. Sony contends that the hack allows PS3 users to install unauthorized software on the system and to run pirated games on the console.

In its complaint, Sony accused Hotz and the other defendants of not only breaking its anti-tampering technology, but also of publicizing their findings at the Chaos hacker conference last year in Berlin. Sony alleges that Hotz and the others publicly talked about and widely distributed code and detailed instructions on how to jailbreak the PS3.

According to Sony, Hotz' actions constitute a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, both of which carry criminal and civil penalties.

The lawsuit has drawn considerable criticism in some quarters. For instance, the Electronic Frontier Foundation claims the lawsuit represents an attempt by Sony to slow efforts by security researchers to look for flaws in its products.

Last Saturday, Hotz set up the Web site and posted a note seeking donations for a legal defense fund. Hotz claimed in the note that he had already racked up over $10,000 in legal bills.

"Put it this way, Sony has 5 lawyers, I have 2," Hotz wrote. "I'd like to level the playing field, and really get some hard hitters in there," he said. Hotz conceded that he was mistaken in initially thinking that the lawsuit "might go away quickly."

"It's been over a month, and it looks like this is going to be a drawn out case. I'm in this for the long haul," Hotz said.

Sony would likely prefer the case to be heard in California, Kellar said. California falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District which as recently as December 2010 ruled partly in favor of the copyright holder in a somewhat similar DMCA case.

That case involved Blizzard Entertainment, maker of World of Warcraft game, and MDY Industries LLC, provider of a software bot called Glider that automated game-play for WoW players up to a certain level. In a mixed ruling, the court held MDY liable for trafficking in copyright circumvention technologies. However, at the same time denied Blizzard's copyright infringement claim against MDY.

If Hotz' motion for dismissal is upheld in the California court, it is quite likely Sony will file the suit in New Jersey, Kellar said.

A scan of the comments posted on Hotz' blog suggests that he has managed to garner support from PS3 users from around the globe. On the site, supporters said they were from countries such as Brazil, Vietnam, Mynmar and Australia.

The site also attracted critics. "He's getting what he deserves," one person commented. "The moral here is: If you're going to be a hacker, be anonymous. Don't try to be a celebrity because you might become an example."

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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