Hey Sony, don't mess with Linux, says PS3 lawsuit

San Francisco man files lawsuit seeking class action status against Sony for removing the option to install Linux on the PS3.

When Sony nerfed Linux support for the PS3 in early April, we knew it was only a matter of time before someone pulled a pack of lawyers out of their pocket.

Sure enough, a complaint (PDF courtesy IGN) filed in San Francisco federal court Tuesday is after class action status to wring compensation from Sony for yanking what some considered a quintessential feature of the company's flagship games console.

Unlike the Xbox 360 or Wii, the PS3 shipped in 2006 with an option to run alternative operating systems, including popular Linux distributions from Debian, Fedora, OpenSUSE and Ubuntu. The "slim" model refresh that appeared last September lost this feature, but Sony exempted older "fat" PS3s.

On April 1, PS3 firmware update 3.21 disabled the "Install Other OS" feature, ostensibly because Sony deemed it a hacker loophole. PS3 owners didn't have to install the update, but failing to do so locked them out of the PlayStation Network, playing newer gamers, viewing Blu-ray movies, and playing copyright-protected videos streamed off a media server. Not much of a choice, in other words.

The suit seeks to redress Sony's downgrade, claiming that it's "not only a breach of the sales contract...but it is also an unfair and deceptive business practice perpetrated on millions of unsuspecting consumers."

"Sony knowingly and willingly accepted monetary benefits from Plaintiff and the Class, but Sony did not honor its obligations," reads the complaint. "Rather, Sony benefited from the sales of PS3s with the Other OS function which it then forced purchasers to either disable or forgo other important PS3 functions."

"By engaging in the conduct described above, Sony has been unjustly enriched at the expense of Plaintiff and the Class and is required, in equity and good conscience, to compensate the Plaintiff and the Class for harm suffered as a result of its actions."

The individual who filed the complaint notes he "chose to purchase a PS3, as opposed to an Xbox or a Wii, because it offered the Other OS feature...despite the fact that the PS3 was substantially more expensive than other gaming consoles."

Will Sony relent and reinstate the feature? Probably not, whatever the status of this suit, but PS3-Linux wonks can hope.

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Matt Peckham

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