In mid-October 2016, Sony Computer Entertainment America began the process of abiding by a settlement order resulting from a class action lawsuit involving the PlayStation 3 video game consoles and the ability to install Linux as an alternate operating system.
The settlement is applicable to owners of early PS3 models who installed Linux on their consoles and later lost the ability to boot to an operating system other than the proprietary one installed by Sony. This settlement could net $55 to each of those affected as long as they participate in compliance with the instructions stipulated by the court.
Background of the Case Against Sony
The first batch of PS3 consoles released by electronics giant Sony in 2006 had a few things in common with its predecessor. The PlayStation 2 operated on a kernel that allowed users to install Linux with a kit sold separately by Sony.
In 2006, the PS3 hit the console gaming market with great fanfare but with a bit of disappointment as it did away with a couple of legacy features: rumble and backwards compatibility. At that time, fans of the Sony PS system were glad they could at least install Linux or even other operating systems such as FreeBSD. Within the PS3, this feature was named OtherOS and could be accessed from a menu item labeled “Install Other OS.”
The PS3 OtherOS feature was not as comprehensive as it was in the PS2, for which Sony used to sell Linux kits. Those kits included a hard drive with a special version of Linux that was developed. A few applications supported chat, web browsing and email.
The PS2 Linux kit was mostly a novelty item since affordable desktop PCs of that time were more powerful. When the first PS3 consoles were released, the OtherOS feature was actually more attractive due to the powerful hardware. Using the PS3 as a home computer made more sense at the time; notwithstanding the fact that Sony no longer offered the PS2 Linux kit, a version of the operating system called Yellow Dog was installed by some PlayStation 3 owners.
The Release of the PS3 Slim
A known market strategy used by Sony involves releasing upgraded versions of its original PS consoles. In the case of the PS3, Sony released a slim model in 2009. By this time, Sony had reinstated support for rumble controllers and compatibility with PS2 games, but it decided to abandon the OtherOS feature.
After the release of the PS3 Slim, users of the original “fat” PS3 were relieved to learn that their old consoles were still able to accept Linux or FreeBSD. In fact, a small but active online community of PS3 tinkerers emerged thanks to the interest in Yellow Dog Linux.
A few months following the introduction of the PS3 Slim, Sony released a system update through its PlayStation Network. This update had a two-fold purpose: to disable the OtherOS feature and to allow players to access online game services. Failure to apply the update would allow users to retain their Linux installations at a disadvantage of not being able to play online or apply future updates.
A class action lawsuit on behalf of affected PS3 owners was initially won by Sony; however, a settlement was reached on appeal. Owners of the original PS3 can fill out an online claim form for the $55 compensation; they must provide proof of an original, “fat” PS3 purchase from an authorized retailer as well as other documentary evidence that the Linux installation was once working on their consoles.
Mark Sadaka from Sadaka Associates, the leading Hazardous Chemical Attorney, has a national practice and works with clients from New York to Alaska.