from the just-renting dept
We’ve noted countless times how in the modern computing era, you don’t really own what you think you own. You don’t really own the music or books that can arbitrarily disappear on your devices, and you no longer really own a wide variety of hardware that can be dramatically changed (often for the worse) via firmware update months or years after purchase. If you’re extra lucky, you’ll shell out $300 for a piece of hardware that one year later simply won’t work at all. With intelligent automobiles and the rise of the internet-of-not-so-smart things, that’s more true now than ever.
Case in point: back in 2010 we noted how Sony issued several firmware updates for its Playstation 3 gaming console that effectively made the console less useful. One specifically (PS3 software update 3.21) removed the console owner’s ability to load alternative operating systems like Linux. But tinkerers being tinkerers, some users found ways to use the feature to expand the console’s functionality in all kinds of creative ways. Fearing a loss of control and potential spike in piracy, Sony decided to make the console significantly less useful.
Sony was ultimately sued via class action for the decision. After six years of litigation, Sony has agreed to settle the dispute by doling out a whopping $9 to each console owner that bought a PS3 based on Sony’s promises to provide “Other OS” functionality, and $55 to each PS3 user that managed to get Linux running on the console. Like most class actions it’s the attorneys who’ll reap the most benefits, Sony doling out $2.25 million in attorneys’ fees for the lawyers who brought suit (though it’s worth noting even this wouldn’t be possible today thanks to TOS mouse print banning class actions and requiring binding arbitration).
Sony’s lawyers at several points tried to claim that the update was “voluntary,” refusing to acknowledge that users that refused to install the firmware couldn’t actually use it for much of anything:
“…Sony said the update was voluntary. However, without updating, console owners couldn’t connect to the PlayStation Network, play any games online, play any games or Blu-ray movies that required the new firmware, play any files kept on a media server, or download any future updates. Before the settlement, Sony argued that its terms of service allowed it to remove the Other OS feature and that the functionality wasn’t that big of a deal for most console owners.”
Part of the settlement requires that PS3 owners show “some proof of their use of the Other OS functionality” — which after six years may not be all that easy for impacted users. While it’s nice to see PS3 owners get a little something after six years of litigation, the overall trend in technology remains one where consumers can’t tinker with the hardware they “own,” can’t be sure the hardware will adhere to day one marketing promises, have no guarantees that the gear will even work even one year down the line, and can’t sue if what they own is intentionally downgraded or crippled by the manufacturer. Progress!