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George "Geohot" Hotz

George Hotz might look like your average college kid: scruffy hair, t-shirt, and that look of “I just woke up and don’t care,” but he is far from run of the mill. Better known to the world as Geohot, he’s the hacker behind some brilliant pieces of iPhone unlocking software (BlackRa1n and LimeRa1n), and more recently a hack for the Sony Play Station 3, which allows it to play pirated games. On January 11, 2011, Sony decided to sue him and others for “bypassing effective technology protection measures,” which according to Sony “facilitate the counterfeiting of video games.”

What does Geohot have to say about all this?

Geohot has even set up a blog to express his frustration over the suit, because as he says, “It seems like SCEA has declared war on hackers. Something as grave as war at least needs a blog.”

How did this all get started? According to Groklaw:

On January 11, 2011, SCEA filed a complaint against Mr. Hotz and others for alleged violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) (17 U.S.C. §1201), the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”) (18 U.S.C. § 1030), the Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. §501), California’s Computer Crime Law (Penal Code §502), and other state laws with respect to SCEA’s PlayStation3 computer entertainment system (“PS3 System”) (Docket No. 1). SCEA also moved for a Temporary Restraining Order against Mr. Hotz based on its claims under the DMCA and CFAA. (Docket No.2). On January 27, 2011, the Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order enjoining such activity. (Docket No. 50). The parties also submitted limited briefing on the question of whether the Court has personal jurisdiction over Mr. Hotz. [Docket Nos. 32, 46, 47] On February 2, 2011, Mr. Hotz filed a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Personal Jurisdiction (“Motion to Dismiss”). [Docket No. 51]. SCEA subsequently moved to take expedited, targeted discovery prior to the deadline for its Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss. [Docket No. 62]. Among the discovery sought by SCEA for jurisdictional purposes are Requests for Production, Interrogatories, an Inspection Demand to inspect Mr. Hotz’s PS3 System and computers, a Notice of Deposition, as well as third party subpoenas to ascertain Mr. Hotz’s forum related contacts with California.

The Sony complaint alleges alleges:

Defendants George Hotz (and others) … are computer hackers.1 Working individually and in concert with one another, Defendants recently bypassed effective technological protection measures (“TPMs”) employed by plaintiff Sony Computer Entertainment America LLP (“SCEA”) in its proprietary PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system (“PS3 System”). Through the Internet, Defendants are distributing software, tools and instructions (collectively, “Circumvention Devices”) that circumvent the TPMs in the PS3 System and facilitate the counterfeiting of video games. Already, pirated video games are being packaged and distributed with these circumvention devices. … SCEA moves ex parte to put an immediate halt to the ongoing distribution of these illegal Circumvention Devices and avoid irreparable harm to SCEA and to other video game software developers stemming from video game piracy.

Defendants’ Circumvention Devices allow users to circumvent multiple TPMs in the PS3 System – including access control, encryption and digital signature protections – to enable use or playing of illegal copies of PlayStation®3 video games on the PS3 System.

(Emphasis added)

Here is a complete list of the legal papers filed up until now from Geohot’s original website on the law suit:

Public response to the suit has been overwhelmingly supportive of Geohotz, and has created a PR nightmare for Sony. Most recently a legal fund set up on the Geohot website achieved it’s funding goal within 2-days, and the video shown above was viewed over 1,000,000 times in it’s first few days of broadcast on YouTube.
Whether Geohot’s crusade against Sony really puts a dent in the video game giant’s side bigger than the one he did through hacking their systems remains to be seen. For now we get to follow the case of a prominent hacker in hot water. What do you think the outcome will be in this case?

It’s official: video games are a legitimate practice area for lawyers.  On February 8, 2011 the Video Game Bar Association launched with a five-member board that includes in-house counsel and firm lawyers.  It’s continuing mission: to boldly go where no Bar Association has gone before … or provide a relevant industry information and networking space for lawyers (I like my first answer better).

Here’s what you need to know about the new Video Game Bar Assocation:

Who’s in charge? As mentioned there is a five member board of in-house and law firm lawyers.

  • Patrick Sweeney, head of Reed Smith’s video game practice
  • George Rose, executive vice president and chief public policy officer at Activision Blizzard Inc.
  • David Anderson, vice president of business and legal affairs for THQ Inc.
  • David Rosenbaum of the Law Offices of David Rosenbaum
  • Konstantin Ewald, a partner at Osborne Clarke in Cologne, Germany

Everyone is in California except Konstantin.

How can you get in? 100 attorneys in North American and Europe were initially invited to join the organization. According to Law.com, you need to meet the following criteria to be eligible: “Membership is open to attorneys who have practiced for two or more years, predominantly in the games industry, on a recommendation by two existing members from different firms.”

What does it cost and what do I get for that? The price right now is $100 per year, and you will get continuing legal education (CLE) courses in video game law, as well as networking events at trade shows.

Sounds great, when do we start? There is a kickoff meeting on March 2, 2011 during the annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Is a bar association for “video game law” really necessary? Yes.  As someone who has written about and focused on these issues since 2005, I can only tell you this industry is going to continue to grow.  The demand for lawyers with an intimate knowledge of all sides of the video game industry will continue to rise as well.  From the Reed Smith press release (Sweeney’s firm):

Video games are a multi-billion dollar industry, despite a slowdown in consumer spending, and the number of attorneys specializing in the industry is on the rise as issues unique to the games business increasingly require specialized counsel both on an in-house and an external basis.

The numbers are impressive, as cited int he Am Law Daily blog:

Last year American consumers spent at least $15.4 billion on game content, according to estimates from market research NPD Group. (By comparison, movie box office revenues totaled $10.5 billion in 2010.) And according to the Entertainment Software Association, computer and video game companies employ, directly or indirectly, more than 120,000 people in 34 states.

Based on these facts an organized association that can guide lawyers in handling video game cases is long overdue.  Plus, I would much rather take a CLE in something like “litigating the management of digital assets in massive multiplayer online role playing games” than something on tax shelters, wills planning for baby boomers, or litigating auto accident claims any day.

How did this start? According to Law.com:

Sweeney held meetings during the past year at video game trade shows, including the Entertainment Software Association’s E3 Expo in Los Angeles and the Gamescom trade show in Germany. Nearly 60 attorneys at those events expressed interest in a bar association devoted to video game law, Sweeney said.

Are there any Linkedin, martindale.com Connected, or other social media groups for this yet? From what I could find in searching current industry groups like Video Game Industry Professionals on Linkedin or the groups directory on martindale.com Connected, the answer is “no.”  Whether the association decides to form these after their kickoff meeting remains to be seen.  I’d like to formally offer on this post to help with community management on any group they do decide to create, and invite them to start on martindale.com Connected.

Finally, what does the public think about this?  Check out this video clip from industry maven and YouTube video game commentator Press (heart) to Continue:

 

 

 

It’s been a while since I blogged about video games.  Becoming a father and a manager at a major corporation contributed, but overall, I have stopped playing video games.  Nothing against them – just no time.family-jets

It seems the video game industry, in it’s nascent legitimacy, can still rely on cheap production when compared to other media. This New York Times article describes how the main star of the mega hiit Grand Theft Auto IV, a little known actor named Michael Hollick, made $100K for his portrayal of the game’s star, Balkan criminal Niko Bellic. While that sounds like a nice paycheck, here’s the rub: if Hollick had portrayed a similar character for television or movies, he would be entitled to royalties:

“Had this been a television program, a film, an album, a radio show or virtually any other sort of traditional recorded performance, Mr. Hollick and the other actors in the game would have made millions by now … they get nothing beyond the standard Screen Actors Guild day rate they were originally paid.”
Acting work in the video game industry traditionally is restricted to day rates, but this article illustrates how there is a need to reexamine that model, especially given the fact that video game systems are tying together all forms of media (XBox 360 handles games, movies, TV and music through download via XBox Live). The clear distinctions no longer exist, and as we see in this situation, promo spots can generate 40 million hits on the internet in the first day; an exposure that would be worth plenty of money to actors in other media forms. Such hype translated int $300 million in GTA sales in the first week, more than most movies do in their short runs.

In my few minutes to spare for lunch, here’s what I am reading about our favorite topic:

Germany is cracking down on violence in games – “According to the latest changes, media which predominantly contains exceptionally realistic, gruel and lurid images of violence as an end in itself is now indexed, i.e. subject to severe restrictions on distribution and advertising (new Section 15 of the Protection of Young Persons Act).” (read the whole article here …)

Jack Thompson (anti-violent game attorney) on the chopping block? – “Florida Judge has recommended that Jack Thompson be found guilty on 27 of 31 counts of misconduct and is awaiting a Florida Supreme Court verdict to back him up … “‘Tunis made 21 recommendations of guilt in relation to Thompson’s participation in Strickland vs. Sony, an Alabama case in which the anti-game attorney represented the families of two police officers and a police dispatcher slain by 18-year-old Grand Theft Auto player Devin Moore.'” (Read more …)

Those Brits love their video games enough to stab for them? – “A hooded man queuing to buy the new Grand Theft Auto IV, the notoriously violent computer game, stabbed a passer-by in the head and neck. Up to 100 people witnessed the attack … The bad publicity appeared to have little effect on sales. Play.com was taking up to 80 orders a minute and had to take on 90 extra staff to cope. Woolworths reported selling 200 copies a minute and said that it would be sold out by the end of the day.” (Read more …

What’s wrong with kids today … must be them video games -  “A schoolyard “cops and robbers” game led to the questioning and suspension of a fourth-grade student at a Half Moon Bay elementary school in 2007. It has now evolved into a lawsuit against the school district … The boy was suspended for a day after a teacher found a drawing he had made of a cartoon character and a gun. His parents say it was a drawing of a video game he played at home …” (Read more …)

Second Life law suits cost First Life dollars - “… a Pennsylvania lawyer recently sued a San Francisco-based company over a online property deal that went sour … (the lawyer) seeking thousands in damages for breach of contract and unfair trade practices after he purchased virtual property in Second Life, a 3-D world that exists only online.  And when owner Linden Lab terminated his account, he sued.  The dispute was eventually settled out of court in a confidential agreement.” (Read more …)

Well that’s all the browsing I have time for today.  So what did we learn?  Germans only like violence on the Rugby field, (not the video game screen), Jack Thompson may have lots of time on his hands (maybe he’ll pick up some video games!), don’t stand in queue for GTA games w/o some neck protection, it’s okay if kids draw violent images in school (as long as they are of a video game and not themselves?), and when trading in virtual real estate, make sure your virtual contract follows the virtual laws or you could find yourself the subject of actual litigation over virtual property …

I am a recent law school graduate who has a full time job. The pay is okay, but I love the work. Am I working my 9-5 as an attorney? No. Could I make more money if I went and practiced? Maybe. But I don’t; I prefer to work in a related field doing something that I enjoy right now. I like the flexibility and the challenge. What I don’t like is the money.

If it weren’t for the money, I’d be writing full-time or directing theater or teaching kids in Guatamala. But I have a wife, I have a baby, (thank G-d I don’t have a mortgage payment).

As my law school loans came due for repayment I screwed up. I never consolidated under lower interest rates, I put off having to deal with them, and now I owe well over $1000 per month to these lenders. I can’t pay that. There is no way in hell I can pay that. So what did I do? Applied for a deferrment like everyone else.

Now this seemed easy enough, but for some odd reason, I didn’t qualify for economic hardship. They said I made $71 per year too much to qualify. Amazing, considering I am finding it economically hard to pay even half of what they want per month.

Then, when I wanted to use some of the argumentation skills that their astronomical loan to me helped pay far, they transfer me to the Sallie Mae Postponements Department. This was a call center, in another country, where my argumentation skills were useless b/c I was speaking with a non-native-English speaker who had to ask her supervisor a question to every question I asked her. She kept me on the phone for over 30 minutes through various periods of being on hold, only to come back and offer me forebearance. She seemed to love that option of forebearance.

Play Money

I may have found my new favorite book: Play Money by Wired writer Julian Dibbell. Since I have to get to work now, I don’t have that much time to talk about it now, but you will hear plenty in the weeks to come. Just a quick cap: the book talks about making millions of dollars selling virtual goods in virtual worlds. In essence making a fake economy that builds real wealth. This is nothing new, and the topic has been discussed at length, but to me Dibbell’s straight forward approach has me looking at the legal and financial aspects in a whole new light. Most important, however, is the sense of comfort and almost humor I now view my financial situation. What was once a source of anxiety (how the hell am I supposed to pay off $100K in law school debt writing blogs and working for a publishing company?) is now revealed to be a bogeyman; this monstrous joke that we call our finances. More to come.

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