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13 Jan 2011

Sony has launched legal action against hackers who uncovered and published security codes for the PlayStation 3.

The hack potentially allows anyone to run any software on their machine, including pirated games.

Sony's lawsuit argues that this constitutes copyright infringement and computer fraud.

But George Hotz, one of the hackers at the centre of the controversy, told BBC News that he was "comfortable" the action would not succeed.

"I am a firm believer in digital rights," Mr Hotz said.

"I would expect a company that prides itself on intellectual property to be well versed in the provisions of the law, so I am disappointed in Sony's current action.

"I have spoken with legal counsel and I feel comfortable that Sony's action against me doesn't have any basis."

The twenty-one-year-old, who rose to prominence for breaking the iPhone's security, is named in the lawsuit alongside more than 100 people associated with a hacking group known as fail0verflow.

In the filing, submitted to the Northern District Court of California, Sony asks for a restraining order that bans Mr Hotz from further hacking and prevents distribution of the software produced as a result.

"Working individually and in concert with one another, the defendants recently bypassed effective technological protection measures employed by Sony," the document states.

"Through the internet, defendants are distributing software, tools and instructions that circumvent the [protection measures] and facilitate the counterfeiting of video games. Already, pirate video games are being packaged and distributed with these circumvention devices."
Secret codes

The controversy centres around a series of secret codes that Sony uses to protect its system from being used for unauthorised purposes.

Among them is a number used to "sign" all PS3 games and software as a way of proving that they are genuine.

Once the key is known, however, it can be used to sign any software - including unofficial software and, potentially, pirated games.

The PlayStation's protection had remained impenetrable for several years, but members of fail0verflow demonstrated the first breakthrough in December when they presented a security exploit at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin.

Mr Hotz then revealed that he had uncovered the secret signing number using a similar method.

fail0verflow's website was taken down overnight, replaced with the message "Sony sued us" and a brief statement.

"We have never condoned, supported, approved of or encouraged videogame piracy," it says.

"We have not published any encryption or signing keys. We have not published any Sony code, or code derived from Sony's code."

The group has said in the past that it is vehemently against games piracy and that it had worked on the hack so that users could install other operating systems and amateur software on the console.

Sony had indicated previously that it would try to fix the hack by updating the PS3's software over the internet.

Console hacking and online copyright infringement is a contentious topic, frequently ending in high-profile court cases as technology companies seek to prevent their systems from being copied or modified.

While most cases in recent years have involved music and video file-sharing services like Napster, Grokster and Kazaa, a growing number of cases have involved the hacking of video games consoles.

Last year, a team released a piece of hardware called PSjailbreak that allowed gamers to play homemade and pirated games on the PlayStation 3.

Although the company has issued software to block the device and launched legal action, it has not prevented it entirely - with a Spanish court ruling that the gadget is not illegal.

In December, meanwhile, federal prosecutors dropped their case against a student accused of pirating games for Microsoft's Xbox 360.

The case against California resident Matthew Crippen was dropped after the judge said that he had "serious concerns" about the legality of the evidence collected against him.

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