Monday, December 12th 2011

PS3 'OtherOS' Scandal: Sony 1, Customers 0

The verdict is in: a company can flog you a product while loudly advertising a significant feature likely to sway your buying decision, then yank it away from you sometime later - and get away with it. Yay!

Sounds like a ridiculous, awful parody, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it isn't. This is what's happened with the "OtherOS" feature so unceremoniously yanked by Sony from the PlayStation 3 way back in March 2010 with a firmware update – the infamous version 3.21 - all in the name of increasing system security to prevent game "piracy". At the time the feature was advertised, many enthusiasts realized that they could use the PS3 as a cheap, but powerful computer and Linux was lovingly ported over to it. Even the US military built a "supercomputer" around a cluster of 1760 PlayStation 3's, finding them very useful for such things as researching artificial intelligence, image enhancement and pattern recognition, all things requiring intensive computer power. They can't do this any more, all because of the "fight against piracy." As machines die off, they can't be replaced with new ones. Unless those can somehow have the old firmware put on them using some unofficial workaround, of course...
Enthusiasts interested in this feature were understandably not happy at being treated in such a shoddy way. One Californian resident, Anthony Ventura, even had the guts to file a class action lawsuit against Sony over this and the case looked like a strong one. The lawsuit stated that the removal of this feature was an "intentional disablement of the valuable functionalities originally advertised as available." However, today, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg unfortunately dismissed all but one of Ventura's claims, upholding the EULA that Sony makes customers agree to when they purchase the console. In its motion to dismiss the suit, Sony wrote: "These contracts specifically provide PS3 purchasers with a license, not an ownership interest, in the software and in the use of the PSN, and provide that SCEA has the right to disable or alter software features or terminate or limit access to the PSN, including by issuing firmware updates."

Judge Seeborg's reasoning that the lawsuit should be dismissed is that Ventura is claiming rights to something which he doesn't have rights to: "All of the counts are based on plaintiffs' fundamental contention that it was wrongful for Sony to disable the Other OS feature, or, more precisely, to [force PS3 owners to decide between] permitting the Other OS feature to be disabled or forgoing their access to the PSN and any other benefits available through installing. The flaw in plaintiffs' [argument] is that they are claiming rights not only with respect to the features of the PS3 product, but also to have ongoing access to an internet service offered by Sony, the PSN."Although a little unlikely, Ventura may yet appeal this dismissal. We will publish a follow-up article if this happens.

The only part of the lawsuit that the judge "upheld", was that Venture was allowed to continue using the PS3 with the original firmware, thereby allowing "OtherOS" to be used in that configuration only. A small consolation, if any at all – how are Sony going to stop him anyway? This "option" of course, brings with it a host of problems for the now hapless user, as Escapist Magazine explains: "The plaintiffs maintain that firmware update 3.21 doesn't just forbid access to the PSN, the main functions of the console are no longer viable. To wit, if you didn't update, you could no longer play new games, play games online, play new Blu-Rays, or even play some older Blu-rays. So choosing not to update and keep the "Other OS" option alive means that no new purchases are possible and it seriously restricts the usefulness of the product." Exactly and Sony know this very well, coldly using it as leverage to force people into disabling this important feature.

However, as awful and unjust as this verdict is, it does appear that the law is apparently completely on Sony's side and therefore the judge was merely applying it. The famous phrase, "the law is an ass" appears to fit this case perfectly. In fact, judge Seeborg did actually sympathise with Ventura's situation, which is nice of him: "The dismay and frustration at least some PS3 owners likely experienced when Sony made the decision to limit access to the PSN service to those who were willing to disable the Other OS feature on their machines was no doubt genuine and understandable. As a matter of providing customer satisfaction and building loyalty, it may have been questionable. As a legal matter, however, plaintiffs have failed to allege facts or to articulate a theory on which Sony may be held liable."

So there you have it, a company can sell you a product and then a considerable time later pull a feature which is a major selling point without penalty, not even having to bother compensating the buyer for it in the smallest way. Nothing. Nada. This gives a very poor experience for the customer and leaves them wondering when the next feature will be pulled, or what other dirty tricks the company will be up to. The only thing left to do in such a situation is for everyone to vote with their wallets and boycott companies that have such nasty business ethics. This doesn’t happen often enough in practice, unfortunately.

Finally, one does wonder if the lawsuit would have been dismissed so easily if an entity with deep pockets such as the US military with its homemade supercomputer would have brought this class action...
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66 Comments on PS3 'OtherOS' Scandal: Sony 1, Customers 0

#1
Easy Rhino
Linux Advocate
my ps3 manual includes otheros installation procedure. but it was never advertised.
Posted on Reply
#2
erocker
Senior Moderator
I'm still waiting for more games that utilize my light-gun for my Sega Master System. Sega 1, erocker 0. :( They even advertised it, where's the uproar?!!!
Posted on Reply
#3
Jizzler
Easy Rhino said:
my ps3 manual includes otheros installation procedure. but it was never advertised.
Does it say this?
According to the manual, when Sony Computer Entertainment designed the PS3, "it was fully intended that you, a PS3 owner, could play games, watch movies, view photos, listen to music, and run a full-featured Linux operating system that transforms your PS3 into a home computer."
CnP from Gamespot article.
Posted on Reply
#4
OneCool
w3b said:
The thing that irritates me the most out of this whole ordeal is that now you can buy a product which could later, through modification by the manufacturer/distributor, be changed into a different product after sale.

Regardless of your views of Sony and OtherOS; that above is worthy of contemplation as other companies plot more ways to bend the rules in their favour based on this ruling.
Well if you look at the original PS3 to the now PS3 "slim" its a entirely different machine internally.
As for the "OtherOS" option.It was a selling point for me when I bought mine but i dont miss it :rolleyes: At the time the only distros available to install on would only use 1 of the Cells cores not all 7.
But im not taking up for Sony.... pretty much hated them when they added Cinavia DRM Protection play back. MOTHERF&#@^&% :mad:
Posted on Reply
#5
Easy Rhino
Linux Advocate
erocker said:
I'm still waiting for more games that utilize my light-gun for my Sega Master System. Sega 1, erocker 0. :( They even advertised it, where's the uproar?!!!
evil corporations are rolling over you!!!!!!1

Jizzler said:
Does it say this?



CnP from Gamespot article.
ill check when i get home.
Posted on Reply
#6
devguy
The reason things slide by here is that because the PS3 is "licensed" to a consumer; you agree to the terms in the End User License Agreement. However, if we actually owned the product, what they did might be illegal. Imagine a car you purchased has some feature (might not've been there when the car first launched, but was available and noted in the manual when you purchased it), and then the manufacturer comes and disables/removes that feature after the sale. That would be something you could easily sue for and win. But that is not the case here.

The question though, is how far can a company's actions go in a EULA? I've mentioned an example like this before, but say the PS3 EULA says that if you put an Xbox 360 disc in your PS3, that they will come and steal your TV, and shoot you in the leg. Now, you purchase a PS3, and boot it up, and agree blindly to the EULA so you can start playing with it. One day, you accidentally put a 360 game in the drive, and some people take your TV and shoot you in the leg. Should you be able to pick a lawsuit against this action, even though you agreed to it?

The sad part is, GeoHot got into PS3 otherOS hacking because Sony refused to allow access to the RSX and other nice hardware features to otherOS. Sony had their reasons for doing so (even though I understand them, I highly disagree with all of them), but that is what prompted the effort in the first place. Then, after removing the feature from older PS3s, after clearly stating they weren't going to do so, that got a whole ton of people (smart, hacking people - ie not the kind of people you want to piss off) to target the PS3, and the rest is history.
Posted on Reply
#7
qubit
Overclocked quantum bit
devguy said:
The question though, is how far can a company's actions go in a EULA?
Your post brings up some good points, especially the quote above. Let's take a less extreme example, because shooting people is obviously illegal!

So, the EULA states that if you don't use the PS3 as intended, they will completely disable all the software on it. Is this still legal? You've just paid good money for a door stop. What about if they permanently disable networking functionality, or the Blu-ray drive or some other thing? Where's the line? It's not quite so clear cut, is it?

Hence, one can argue that the OtherOS feature should not have been disabled either, given that Jizzler's post said: "According to the manual, when Sony Computer Entertainment designed the PS3, "it was fully intended that you, a PS3 owner, could play games, watch movies, view photos, listen to music, and run a full-featured Linux operating system that transforms your PS3 into a home computer.

Hence, it's not quite the undocumented feature that newtekie thought, which makes a significant difference.

I wouldn't be surprised if Ventura appeals. If I'd spent the better part of two years fighting this, I'd be really pissed off and I would be likely to. In fact, why did a dismissal take so long in the first place?

And as someone else said some posts back, this is bigger than Sony, because other companies are gonna look at this and see what they can get away with. Overall, this was a bad day for consumer rights.
Posted on Reply
#8
devguy
qubit said:
And as someone else said some posts back, this is bigger than Sony, because other companies are gonna look at this and see what they can get away with. Overall, this was a bad day for consumer rights.
QFT

What some of you guys are missing is that this isn't just about losing access to a feature used by some < 1% of buyers (thus making the consensus be a resounding "who really cares"). It's about setting precedent over these consumer rights.

And sure, shooting people is illegal, but my point was that Sony can do something illegal (albeit to a lesser extreme) simply because the product was licensed rather than sold (and the license was agreed to by the consumer of course).
Posted on Reply
#9
Solaris17
Creator Solaris Utility DVD
Well if you look at the original PS3 to the now PS3 "slim" its a entirely different machine internally.
what?
Posted on Reply
#10
rangerone766
i'm a little confused here. what you guy's are saying, is that no-one "owns" a ps3, they are just licensing it from sony. therefor sony can turn on and off features of this item at will? or completely disable its functionality when they release the new model.

i'm glad i don't do consoles.
Posted on Reply
#11
qubit
Overclocked quantum bit
rangerone766 said:
i'm a little confused here. what you guy's are saying, is that no-one "owns" a ps3, they are just licensing it from sony. therefor sony can turn on and off features of this item at will? or completely disable its functionality when they release the new model.

i'm glad i don't do consoles.
You own the physical hardware of the PS3, but not any of the software, therefore they have you over a barrel.

Unfortunately, most software agreements are similar to this, except that companies are normally mindful of pissing off their customers by removing features and are keen to maintain good PR. These are two things that arrogant Sony obviously don't give a flying fig about. :slap:
Posted on Reply
#12
CDdude55
Crazy 4 TPU!!!
In the end as long as my PS3 can play twisted metal when it comes out next year, then i'm good. :)
Posted on Reply
#13
newtekie1
Semi-Retired Folder
devguy said:
And sure, shooting people is illegal, but my point was that Sony can do something illegal (albeit to a lesser extreme) simply because the product was licensed rather than sold (and the license was agreed to by the consumer of course).
Actually, it would seem they've done nothing illegal. The features of any console, or software for that matter, are not guaranteed to always work and be supported. If so, Sony would be required to keep PSN going forever, and that isn't realistic. Game companies would be required to keep multi-player servers up and available forever, and that is unrealistic as well. That is why they can discontinue any feature of the PS3 at any time if they choose to no longer support it and why everyone words their ToS to allow it.

qubit said:
Unfortunately, most software agreements are similar to this, except that companies are normally mindful of pissing off their customers by removing features and are keen to maintain good PR. These are two things that arrogant Sony obviously don't give a flying fig about.
No they aren't, software companies(especially game companies) disable features all the time. And a lot of software companys at the best only guarantee the features for so long, then they can disable them at any time. Intuit is legendary for this.
Posted on Reply
#14
rangerone766
CDdude55 said:
In the end as long as my PS3 can play twisted metal when it comes out next year, then i'm good. :)
twisted metal on the ps1 was one of the best games ever!!!!
Posted on Reply
#15
newtekie1
Semi-Retired Folder
rangerone766 said:
twisted metal on the ps1 was one of the best games ever!!!!
Twisted Metal 2 was freakin' amazing! I lost so much time to that game! Camping on the eiffel tower to kill people when they teleported up was so much fun and then blowing up the tower!
Posted on Reply
#16
OneCool
Solaris17 said:
what?
Well not in function but in layout,looks and quality.

original ps3 vs slim mobo



plus the cooling system,hardrive connection,psu has all changed (some 2 or 3 times)
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