Sony Computer Entertainment America has just been hit with a class action lawsuit in California over the company's recent decision to remove PlayStation 3 support for the Linux operating system in a firmware update.
This decision, in the words of the lawsuit, was an "intentional disablement of the valuable functionalities originally advertised as available with the Sony PlayStation 3 video game console. This disablement is not only a breach of the sales contract between Sony and its customers and a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, but it is also an unfair and deceptive business practice perpetrated on millions of unsuspecting consumers."
When good firmware goes bad
At issue is PlayStation 3 software update 3.21. On March 28, 2010, Sony announced that this update would "disable the 'Install Other OS' feature that was available on the PS3 systems prior to the current slimmer models." This feature would be removed "due to security concerns."
The security concerns are not itemized, but the lawsuit claims that these concerns "did not involve a threat to PS3 users, but rather reflected Sony's concerns that the Other OS feature might be used by 'hackers' to copy and/or steal gaming and other content."
The update is "voluntary," but if you don't take it, you won't be able to connect to the PlayStation Network, play any games online, play any games or Blu-ray movies that "require" the new firmware, play any files kept on a media server, or download any future updates.
We've gotten used to a world in which firmware upgrades can radically alter the hardware we purchase—and this is often seen as a good thing. This lawsuit shows the danger in making changes to existing hardware, especially when features are being removed rather than added. According to the lawsuit, this removal of advertised features violates California's Unfair Competition Law, the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, and other laws.
In short, PS3 owners "have not obtained the benefit of their bargain from Sony and the essential purpose of the PS3 sales contract has been frustrated."
One obvious rejoinder here might be that this was always a niche feature, that its removal is no big deal, and that the core functionality of the device is not affected. But the lawsuit paints another picture, using quotes from Sony executives over last four years.
For instance, there is a 2007 line from Sony's Phil Harrison: "One of the most powerful things about the PS3 is the 'Install Other OS' option." Sony engineer Geoffrey Levand wrote to a PS3 mailing list in August 2009, "Please be assured that SCE is committed to continue to support for previously sold models that have the 'Install Other OS' feature and that this feature will not be disabled in future firmware releases."
Ars Technica even figures into the case. Our own Ben Kuchera interviewed Sony's John Koller in 2009, and when Ben asked him about the removal of the "Other OS" functionality from the new Slim PS3, Koller responded, "If anyone wants to use previous models and change the OS, they can do so."
If the judge allows a class action, the class would encompass all those who purchased a PS3 between November 17, 2006 and March 27, 2010 and who did not resell that machine. The suit seeks unspecified damages from Sony, but does claim that such damages will exceed $5 million.
This isn't the first time Sony has been hit with a class action over the PS3; in fact, it's not even the first time a class action lawsuit has been filed over one of its firmware updates. Sony was on the receiving end of such a lawsuit back in October 2009 over an update that supposedly bricked some consoles.
Sony has not yet responded to the suit.
Source: ars technica