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Two updates to our Sony article “Sony’s War on Makers, Hackers, and Innovators”. First, I sent George Hotz an email asking what he thought about the article and if he had anything to add, we also had a reader email that was pretty interesting.

Sony sued lik-sang out of business, for get this, helping them sell PSPs. Sony even accused me of “extortion” of a job from them. Yea right, like I want to wear a suit and be subordinate to people like Jack Tretton and Riley Russell. I just wanted to tinker a bit for the other side, maybe solve their problems. And I did this for free, I would’ve done that for free too, assuming Sony embraces homebrew and OtherOS, and does it to kill piracy and cheating. And what’s hilarious, at least to me, is the number of people Sony has informed about the PS3 being irreparably hacked. Two things funny about that, it’s not irreparably hacked at all, I know how to fix it. And they went from maybe a tenth of a percent of Sony’s userbase knowing or caring about these hacks to 10% i.e. 100 times as many people aware they could jailbreak their PS3.

You can follow Sony’s suing George “geohot” on his blog.


Next up, a maker writes in…

I read your article about Sony and am amazed that in all your research you didn’t come across the most sinister aspects of Sony Corporation. Like the fact that the entire company was based on theft and stolen IP? I’m not just talking about how they initially got ahold of the transistor IP way back when to make their first radios, either.

If you did a little research, you would have turned up the disgusting story of the true origins of the “Walkman,” which basically made Sony the monster company that it is today, was in fact blatantly stolen from a German inventor who had to fight them in court in order to get some kind of recompense for their outright theft. I believe it would have made your article a much more interesting and relevant read. Especially about how since 1977 they fought him in court to try to silence him and eventually had to pay him an “undisclosed sum” in order to stop the lawsuits.

I knew about this, but details are slim since it appears it was partly settled. Here’s Ars Technica take from 2008.

Sony “committed acts of infringement by making, using, selling, and/or offering to sell products…including, but not limited to, various Sony Walkman models, Sony PlayStation Portable, and Sony Memory Stick Duo.” The jury that decided the case agreed, and found that Sony’s PSP, mylo Personal Communicator, and Network Walkmans all contain IP that infringes upon Ager’s patent. Asked whether or not the jury had found “clear and convincing evidence that such infringement was willful,” the jury answered “Yes.”

The $18.5 million judgment against Sony is the barest slap on the wrist to a multibillion-dollar company, but it’s a victory in principle and a demonstration of how the patent system is supposed to work. ’730 describes the function of a particular type of system, the patent was granted in 1997, and the jury came away convinced that Sony didn’t just infringe, but did so deliberately. The patent system was invented to protect small companies or individuals from predatory IP theft—it’s nice to see it function correctly every once in awhile. 

So, for the folks who thought an artist making an iPod case out of a 25 year old plastic Sony Walkman shell was “theft”, this is a good read.

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


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Comments

  1. Gregg says:

    Amazing! Yes Sony did indeed obtain the information behind the transistor via illegal methods, especially since there was at the time only one company in this country licensed to make the things from the Bell Labs patents.

    And indeed Sony did force Lik-Sang out of business via a largely non-representative lawsuit. (In case anyone doesn’t remember, the HK company was not present at that lawsuit, and hence didn’t even know that the lawsuit destroyed them until it was too late.) I actually looked at the Walkman once, including the MD player version. I didn’t like them.

  2. In the post about the retropod guy I reluctantly defended Sony based on what I felt were the merits of that case. The key point being that Sony actually, you know, invented the Walkman and had some moral standing to defend their IP. Reading today’s update with the information about their long history of IP theft has caused me to change my position from “they still suck but have point on this one” to “screw those guys and everything they stand for.” I can be opened minded about both sides to a dispute up to a point but such naked displays of hypocrisy cross a line for me.

    Thanks for keeping the torch going on this issue, this whole series on Sony has been very educational.

    1. Anonymous says:

      thanks josh!

  3. Miguel says:

    Has anyone done any research on the Japanese corporate culture in general and how this would effect different divisions of Sony to pursue legal action against individuals they felt may threaten their identity?
    In my experience of working with a Japanese firm, I noticed that pride was a great motivator of actions for the company. If an individual somehow threatened the perceived identity of a the company, or offended a higher up, it was customary that the individual shave his head to show shame. This only applied to the Japanese male employees but in internal culture of pride may be a reason that Sony’s executives are responding so aggressively. If a teenager can hack into your system or modify what you’ve spent millions of dollars developing, this really can be taken as a blow to the ego.
    Anyhow, some food for thought.

    1. Anonymous says:

      apple took away the “walkman” from sony. i worked with sony in the past and my impression was that they’re extremely embarrassed about some weirdos in cupertino completely demolishing what sony was best known for. if you look at the c&d from sony about the retropod you can see their insecurities come through, that’s just my opinion though…

      ===========
      Consumers likely will be misled and deceived into believing that Sony is somehow connected with the iPod personal stereo when in fact it is not. Moreover, they will be misled into thinking that Sony is backward in its design of products and is going away from miniaturization, as the size of the tape player housing is quite large by today’s standards.

      Accordingly, we demand on behalf of Sony that you immediately cease and desist from selling, or offering to sell or distributing your Retropod product…”
      ==========

  4. Anonymous says:

    Which I think was my wider point. Now that that’s established, we can proceed adding in the principles of the European Commission’s second case against Microsoft, which established that when a Corporation recalcitrantly persists in abusing its power, it should be pubished retributively.

  5. Matt K-Dub says:

    In light of GeoHot being sued by Sony and this creative project, I suggest a “Million WALK-Man March” in support of the ‘Oppressed’

  6. Honus says:

    Let me see if I understand this correctly. Sony knowingly pilfered the IP of other companies and then sues every other company and individual they possibly can in order to protect their own IP.
    Pot, kettle, black. Check.

    When advertised features were removed from the PS3 and a very smart individual comes along and figures out a way to reinstate the features they PAYED for, Sony has three options:

    1) Do nothing
    2) Contact the very smart individual and utilize their knowledge
    3) Attempt to bury the smart individual (and anyone like them) through litigation

    In an irretrievably stupid move, Sony chooses door number three and attempts to diffuse a bomb that has already gone off (effectively increasing the blast radius), alienates their already unhappy customers and opens themselves up to a class action lawsuit. Check.

    So a company that prides themselves on being a technological leader/innovator has the single most backwards business plan possible- treat customers poorly, steal technology and litigate as much as possible in order to remain competitive. Got it

    Here’s a tip for you Sony: Treat your customers like human beings instead of treating them like human resources.

    Sony just lost another customer, forever.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Sony’s prior patent thefts not-withstanding, there are plenty of companies with that in their history, Apple of course included. When it comes times to make something great, they tend to make it and worry about the lawsuits later. That is not necessarily a bad thing, since a lot of patents, especially today, are garbage.

    But that is not my main point. The real problem with today’s Sony is that it’s a movie/music company that happens to make a bit of hardware. It is no longer the company that made the Walkman, or defended fair use to keep selling the Betamax. Everything it does is to make money off content and hoard/control that content, hence the appointment of a movie exec as CEO. The old Sony strove to make products that people marvel at and want. Today’s Sony has absolutely no interest in that. Their main technological interest is DRM.