April 12, 2011 | By corynne mcsherry

Sony v. Hotz Ends With a Whimper, I Mean a Gag Order

After months of expensive litigation, Sony has finally settled its case against George Hotz and dismissed the remaining defendants from the case. Was it worth the thousands Sony paid in lawyers fees? That depends on Sony’s motivation.

What Sony gets in the settlement (based on the final judgment filed yesterday): George Hotz agrees to leave Sony alone. Really alone. Since Hotz has announced he’s joining the boycott of Sony products, that may not seem like much to give up. But Hotz has agreed to do more than simply avoid hacking any Sony products; he has agreed not to even link to anyone else’s research on Sony products, or to share any Sony confidential information he might receive, even if he obtains it legally. In other words, Hotz is now under a gag order.

But the rest of us are not. Hotz’s research remains public information. The security flaws discovered by the researchers allow users to run Linux on their machines again — something Sony used to support but recently started trying to prevent. So all Sony has really accomplished is to silence one lonely researcher, and anger loyal customers. Hardly seems worth it, right?

Unless you assume that Sony had a different motivation: to chill security research on Sony products.

There’s good reason to suppose that assumption is correct. For example, as we noted when the suit was filed, Sony not only asked the court to immediately impound all "circumvention devices" — which it defines to include not only the defendants' computers, but also all "instructions," i.e., their research and findings. If that had been accomplished, the defendants could have lost access to their own research, and, of course, would have been prevented from sharing it with the world. Even worse, Sony claimed that it was a crime for users to access their own computers in a way that Sony doesn't like. Against this background, this speech-chilling settlement should surprise no one.

The judicial process should never be used to shut down lawful communication and investigation. Here's hoping future security researchers will refuse to be intimidated and that other companies will decline to follow Sony's heavy-handed example.


Deeplinks Topics

Stay in Touch

NSA Spying

EFF is leading the fight against the NSA's illegal mass surveillance program. Learn more about what the program is, how it works, and what you can do.

Follow EFF

We're in Las Vegas for some of the world's most renowned computer security events. Check out what we're doing: eff.org/LasVegas2015

Aug 3 @ 9:11pm

MPAA seeks website blocking with one court order to bind every Internet company. https://eff.org/r.unil #SOPApower

Aug 3 @ 3:43pm

BREAKING: Sen. McConnell just filed cloture on CISA. That means he wants to move it this week. Take action now https://stopcyberspying.com

Aug 3 @ 3:13pm
JavaScript license information