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Microsoft Shows Sony a Better Way
Friday, February 25 2011 @ 10:37 AM EST

There's a wonderful article about Sony's long history of going after creative coders, including the shameful AIBO episode. I can't link to the article's history of Sony's longtime fight against modders because it includes some keys that make Sony turn purple, and I don't wish to be part of this news story, just report on it, and heaven only knows Sony seems to have issues. Plus they have a court-ordered injunction, and Groklaw always shows respect to the courts, regardless of personal views. But the article includes a fabulous link to a tweet by Microsoft VP Brandon Watson, Director for Windows Phone 7, who wrote this to George Hotz when Sony sued him for modding the PlayStation 3:
#geohot if you want to build cool stuff on #wp7, send me email and the team will give you a phone - let dev creativity flourish #wp7dev
I just wanted the world to know that not everyone views this brainiac kid as some kind of criminal the way Sony has described him in the lawsuit. Instead, they realize that he's a resource for creative possibilities. (Here's what he's accomplished already.) And I commend Microsoft for having the smarts to see it. Maybe Sony needs to seriously think about the future, because the future is openness. You know why? Because no matter how large a company is, it can't afford to hire all the coders in the world. To tap into that well, you need to open up. When even Microsoft sees that, it's time.

I saved and saved for one of those AIBOs, and just when I had enough, they stopped making them. The back story is someone figured out how to make the dog do lots of cool things Sony had not coded for, like dance to music, and Sony, instead of seeing the possibilities for increased sales -- who doesn't want a robot dog that can dance when you play it some music? -- threw a fit and made the hacker take down information about it on his website because he'd hacked Sony's Memory Stick storage media, the piece that taught the dog the new tricks; then when there was an outcry, Sony apologized and dropped the DMCA litigation, and backed off. But then they took the dog out back and killed it. So to speak. You can only find used AIBOs now.

Here's more detail on the AIBO story:

Do you own an Aibo? Don't you wish everybody did?

Conceived only three years ago, the Aibo robotic pet has gained popularity not only in people's homes but also in the eyes of DMCA-case watchers. Perhaps Sony's engineers couldn't keep up with owners' demands that their robotic dogs do more than bark, sit, and fetch pink-colored objects. In walked the hacker known only as AiboPet, who cracked the encrypted Aibo code and created programs that taught the dogs to dance and speak, and enabled owners to view the world through their pets eyes. "If it had not been for AiboPet's information, his invaluable knowledge and his generosity in sharing it with the Aibo community, I would not have purchased an Aibo," one Aibo owner said.

Sony sued AiboPet for violating the DMCA. Aibo-lovers boycotted Sony. Sony conceded to its customers, apologized to AiboPet by rescinding the lawsuit, and the AiboPet-hacked code is back, available for downloading. Now, this doesn't mean that AiboPet didn't violate the DMCA, as this Scientific American article pointed out; rather, it means the Aibo-lovers, aptly described in this New York Times article, won a battle. Drawing on that logic, if Aibo's popularity were to wane, would Sony take up the DMCA arms? Seems that AiboPet is safe only as long as his hacking contributes to Sony's bottomline.

What matters in the end is what customers think of you, not how mean the law will let you be. As Slashdot wrote back when Sony used the DMCA to go after AIBO hobbyists, "Don't they like fanatical customers?"

Nope. The Cluetrain didn't reach the station yet. Instead, Sony is looking to beef up its legal team, as evidenced by want ads:

The first listing is for a Senior Corporate Counsel for Anti-Piracy and Brand Protection. The main duties of the role include putting together a corporate anti-piracy plan for Sony, liaising with anti-piracy groups and trade bodies, and overseeing piracy lawsuits. The second listing is for a Senior Paralegal for Anti-Piracy and Brand Protection, whose job is to provide support for the Senior Counsel, liaise with other lawyers, and help with training for law enforcement personnel.

Both posts require a deep level of knowledge of copyright and trademark law and litigation, as well as at least ten years of experience working with copyright law, and at least three dealing specifically with anti-piracy and brand protection. There are also some investigative elements required, such as knowing how to track down the owners and administrators of websites.

And rumor has it Sony *still* thinks it can develop hack-proof products. Sigh. They should ask Hotz to help them, frankly, but he'd tell them the truth, that you can only improve security, not perfect it once and for all. I am glad to know Sony is trying to improve, though. I guess I should explain. I mean that if Sony insists on locks and keys, I think they should at least do a good job, because otherwise I view their products as what the law calls an attractive nuisance, something so appealing to young people, it becomes irresistible, with dangerous outcomes for them.

I don't think even Sony believes it can be successful at producing hack-proof PlayStations. If they did, they wouldn't be hiring lawyers and raiding people's homes and grabbing their computers and PlayStation 3s, leading The Inquirer to call Sony the "overbearing Japanese company".

I can't find an article about the German raid on Graf_chokolo that doesn't link to material Sony's injunction forbids linking to. How stupid this all is. It's a lawsuit to prevent people from knowing things. Pretty sad when that is your best card to play.

The law might well agree with Sony. The DMCA and CFAA are overbearing too. But who will want to buy Sony products after this? And that's a crying shame, because Sony used to be famous for creating wonderful and creative products that you'd have to have been nuts not to want. And contrast Microsoft's reaction to its Kinect for Xbox 360 being hacked. At first they threatened to sue, too, and then they realized they had a goldmine -- fanatical, creative and skilled customers who love their product enough to want to make it better.

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