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Court orders seizure of PS3 hacker's computers

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A federal judge ordered prolific hacker Geohot to turn over his computers and hard drives and to stop publishing the tools used to root Sony's PlayStation 3 after finding his hack was likely a violation of US copyright law.

The temporary restraining order was issued on Thursday by US District Judge Susan Illston of San Francisco. It's a major victory for Sony and a setback for hacker hobbyists who believe they should be permitted to modify hardware they legally own. It comes in a lawsuit Sony filed two weeks ago against New Jersey-based Geohot shortly after he deduced the security key Sony used to lock down the PS3.

The ruling also comes as a defeat to 21-year-old Hotz, who two weeks ago, argued he wasn't subject to the suit because he doesn't have sufficient ties to Northern California, where the action was brought. Shortly after release of the order, his attorney vowed to fight on.

“Needless to say, we're disappointed about the issuance of the TRO, but this doesn't end the question of personal personal jurisdiction of Mr. Hotz, and we still intend to go forward with that motion,” San Francisco-based lawyer Stewart Kellar told The Register. “Suffice it to say it is burdensome to my client for him to give up his computers and hard drives for the order.”

Sony's complaint claimed that by publishing the means to bypass the protection measures built into the console, Hotz violated provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Illston said Sony had “submitted substantial evidence” showing the hack constituted a DMCA violation and that Sony was likely to “suffer irreparable harm” if it wasn't curtailed.

Sony's suit names some 100 other people from a hacking collective known as fail0verflow, who in late December revealed the key used to sign PS3 games and demonstrated how to use it to run homebrew apps on the console. A few weeks later, Hotz independently deduced the “metldr” key, which allowed him to root the PS3. Sony's complaint also alleges the hackers violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

The PS3's use of IBM's Cell processor makes the console ideal for tackling brute-force cryptography attacks and other parallel computing operations. Once upon a time, Sony included a modified version of Linux with the PS3. Sony eventually disabled the so-called OtherOS after Hotz devised a way to use it to gain full memory access to the console.

Hotz was among the first to jailbreak Apple's iPhone so it would work on carrier networks other than AT&T's. Last year, the US Copyright Office exempted iPhone jailbreaking from the DMCA so that they can run apps not officially sanctioned by Apple.

At the hearing for Sony's requested TRO, Illston said she was inclined to reject Sony's arguments that her court had jurisdiction over Hotz because he used services provided by Twitter and PayPal, which are both located nearby. Her ruling didn't explain the change of heart. Kellar said it was based on a legal doctrine known as purposeful direction.

“We're confident once the merits of the case get heard, wherever that may be, that our client will prevail,” Kellar said. ®

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