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Sony's War On Makers, Hackers, and Innovators 317

ptorrone writes "MAKE Magazine takes a look at Sony's history of suing makers, hackers and innovators. Over the last decade Sony has been targeting legitimate innovation, hobbyists, and competition. From picking on people who want to program their robot dogs to dance to suing people who want to run their own software on something they bought. Sony has made so many mistakes with technology choices (Memory Stick, Magic Gate, UMD!), perhaps they'll end themselves soon enough, but until then MAKE is keeping score for Sony's all-out war on tinkerers."
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Sony's War On Makers, Hackers, and Innovators

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  • It's simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Friday February 25, 2011 @09:19AM (#35311176) Journal

    It's simple. Vote with your wallet and don't buy Sony. Even if they make something which looks nice, DON'T BUY IT. Basically, they hate their customers and unless you stop buying from them, they will never stop abusing their customers.

    As an added bonus, if you don't buy from them, they can't abuse you.

    So, it's simple. Every slashdotter should know this by now. If you're on slashdot and complaining about recent bad experiences with Sony, then it's your own fault and you do not have my sympathy.

  • Re:It's simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Doctor_Jest ( 688315 ) on Friday February 25, 2011 @09:28AM (#35311218)
    While I agree with the sentiment, I can't help but draw parallels between Sony's actions and those of Microsoft and Apple. (Let's face it, even though the article mentions WP7 phone hacking, Microsoft has nothing but contempt for its customers too, w/r/t Windows phoning home... among other things.) I recall Apple's war on well, just about anything that threatened the walled garden. While in one corner, we have Sony and its gestapo band of lawyers, in the other corner, we've got Microsoft's heavy-handed DRM-laden OS, Apple's war on choice, and so forth. Then there's Nintendo... but that's another entirely nasty ball of wax.

    It's a shame people (in general) don't vote with their wallets enough. I like my PS3, but as with my 360, I am not interested in supporting future efforts to close me off from the tinkering. I guess that's why I am glad I still have my Dreamcast. :) At least after all these years, Sega's not suing everyone who makes homebrew. Sony and all the rest are corporations. They are in it for the money. I still don't see how anyone is surprised that Sony does what it does. I suppose it's time to break the "ooh! Shiny!" cycle.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 25, 2011 @09:31AM (#35311234)

    Recently I purchased a PS3 and two Bravia flat screens; they are awesome. I know Samsung makes great TVs, but the Bravia is still better in my opinion (like not requiring a cable box to pick up HD channels)

  • Re:It's simple (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AVee ( 557523 ) <slashdot AT avee DOT org> on Friday February 25, 2011 @09:41AM (#35311314) Homepage

    There's the problem, every Slashdotter knows this but what about everybody else? Your average consumer doesn't know/care about any of this and until they do, this whole issue is going to continue for the rest of us. As long as the majority of Sony's customers just want to play on their PS3 and believe all hackers are puppy killers Sony doesn't need to care about whether its customers are even aware of being abused.

    You should stop worrying about what other people should buy. I want to be able to tinker with my stuff, so I won't buy anything Sony. But when somebody else wants to get screwed by Sony, they are within their rights. Either they will get what they want (e.g. a PS3 which just plays their games) which is fine. Or they will run into something they are not allowed to do by Sony and stop buying it as well. It's their life, their money. That's a free market for you.

  • Misguided Fury (Score:3, Insightful)

    by engun ( 1234934 ) on Friday February 25, 2011 @09:45AM (#35311334)
    This seems to be a case of misguided fury where Sony is confusing its failure to to stay relevant, with losses stemming from piracy.
    All console manufacturers suffer some losses due to piracy, but not all of them find the need to rage against it.

    Sony has had a string of flops, from over-estimating the popularity of the PS3 (are they still selling it at a loss? or has it turned a profit at last?) to failing to so much as imagine something like the Kinect.

    My guess is, management has no choice but to scapegoat their failures on something - and who better than the obvious targets, like tinkerers and hackers and that omnipresent threat of piracy?
    (Microsoft, oddly enough, is actually profiting by encouraging an eco-system of tinkerers around the Kinect)
  • The irony is ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 25, 2011 @09:47AM (#35311352)

    I still have a functioning Sony Trinitron and Sony VCR built in the 1990s, when Sony hardware was good. They were one of the first purchases I made of electronics gear when I moved out, and at the time I would have recommended them. I *used* to be a fan of their gear -- a little more expensive, but reasonable quality for consumer-grade stuff.

    Now I wouldn't touch their stuff with a 10-foot pole even if it was twice as good for half the price.

    Do they understand that they've lost an entire category of users? Yeah, I know geeks probably aren't their biggest market among the vast number of general consumers out there, but when you add in the "What would you buy? Anything but Sony" advice from geeks to their friends, the numbers have got to add up to something significant.

    Why don't they get this? How long can they afford not to care?

  • Re:I have a dream (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JonySuede ( 1908576 ) on Friday February 25, 2011 @09:50AM (#35311370) Journal

    Do you know how to insult them with a gesture ? That could get handy, as I want to offend people in as many culture as I can.

  • by Skarecrow77 ( 1714214 ) on Friday February 25, 2011 @09:52AM (#35311384)

    Be fair. This should read:

    "Some FOSS, worked on by a competent team, revised often with care towards the experience of users other than the authors and attention to the forward pace of current technology, can equal or better proprietary software".

    You and I (and everybody else) have used some pretty godawful pieces of FOSS on pretty much any given OS, as well as the gems. There's nothing about FOSS that inherently makes it better.

  • by jedidiah ( 1196 ) on Friday February 25, 2011 @10:01AM (#35311446) Homepage

    Neither msword nor outlook are anything to write home about or hold up as examples.

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday February 25, 2011 @10:05AM (#35311468) Homepage

    The PS3 and the win for BluRay exorcised some of the ghosts of the Betamax era

    And brought in new ones.

    Sure, Betamax was a superior technology. But, Sony also fought for the right of people to own a device which allowed them to record content and watch it at their leisure -- well, deep down they fought for their right to sell them I guess. Some of the (eroding) consumer rights we have now with respect to content were, ironically, established due to Sony.

    Now, Sony is leading the spearhead to make sure consumers don't have any rights any more, and that anything which is actually capable of recording is bordering on illegal. So, they got a technology win, but they've become major assholes in the process. They've also had a huge number of flops that nobody cared about -- I only know one person who owned a Sony Minidisc system. And it was annoying as hell at the time.

    their real flagship - The Walkman - has been deprecated by apple

    Deprecated?? I think not. Made Redundant, pointless, and irrelevant in the marketplace; totally outclassed and left for dead -- but not 'deprecated'.

    I'm pretty sure I've not bought anything by Sony in over a decade, and I don't really see that changing. Less likely the more I hear news about them.

  • by maxume ( 22995 ) on Friday February 25, 2011 @10:09AM (#35311502)

    For-profit development does often manage to keep a wider range of users in mind than itch driven development (which often tends to keep a very small number of user in mind).

  • by Skarecrow77 ( 1714214 ) on Friday February 25, 2011 @10:10AM (#35311510)

    I didn't say payware was any better. I just said that nothing about the fact that the author isn't taking money for his work magically makes the work any better, and of course the argument works just as well in reverse.

    I'm not sure where you get the idea that FOSS is somehow more targeted at the user than pay software. In my experience, most FOSS starts off as "I wrote this for myself. The interface is kinda wonky, but it works for me, maybe some of you guys can get some use out of it too" and grows from there. Playing devil's advocate here, pay software on the other hand is written specifically to be sold to customers and therefore if it has a wonky interface and is missing features customers want, chances are it won't sell (unless it's bundled with MS office or is made by Apple and the name starts with a lowercase "i").

  • Re:It's simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 25, 2011 @10:11AM (#35311522)

    Bad strategy. If Sony gets away with it, then other manufacturers will follow and soon there won't be any things left that you can buy and tinker with.

    Other people do get burnt by Sony, but they don't know before it's too late and they often don't understand how and that it's a Sony thing. A free market requires informed participants. People who don't know what they're getting into skew the market, and that's why it does matter what non-tinkerers know.

  • Re:It's simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Durzel ( 137902 ) on Friday February 25, 2011 @10:13AM (#35311564) Homepage

    This isn't going to be a popular viewpoint on here but it needs saying.

    The average consumer isn't being screwed by Sony, and that's the point. The average consumer buys a PS3 to play games and movies they buy from the shops. The average consumer doesn't care (or likely didn't even know) what OtherOS etc was.

    The average consumer doesn't understand why people would want to hack their PS3 to do things other than that which Sony intended, and probably assume most of them just want to play "stolen games" (which let's be frank and honest - for all the bluff and bluster about the importance of homebrew the vast majority of the audience is focused on these hacks enabling them to pirate things)

  • by gpuk ( 712102 ) on Friday February 25, 2011 @10:28AM (#35311716)

    Show me the commercial equivalents that beat: apache, postgresql (for db tasks other than mega-enterprise grade), bind, svn, git, firefox/chrome, postfix (for non-groupware mail servers), ssh, vsftpd, squid...

    Those are just off the top of my head

  • by trudyscousin ( 258684 ) on Friday February 25, 2011 @10:37AM (#35311838)

    I knew for years that Sony had been the distributor of CBS recordings in Japan (and a great custodian too; I found CDs in Tokyo of CBS releases, long forgotten in the US, whose excellent quality reflected the care given to their masters), so it seemed to be a natural fit when they acquired CBS Records. In those days, how could I think otherwise? Sony's reputation for innovation and quality were unmatched by anyone else in Japan. Whenever I brought home a Sony television, or a stereo receiver, or a reel-to-reel deck (yes, I'm that old), that was something special.

    However, that acquisition, along with that of Columbia Pictures, marked the days when Sony began its long decline as an electronics provider. (Akio Morita's inevitable departure didn't help, either.) They still produce some amazing products, even though products like the Walkman, once ubiquitous, is now largely a historical fact. Their shift in focus now makes them a content provider first and a electronics provider second.

    When it comes to content, I think of them as nouveau riche, in the derogatory sense. Like the person with newfound wealth sometimes behaves, Sony has behaved in a most vulgar manner. It has demonstrated an amazing lack of finesse toward its customers while attempting to protect its content. The most infamous example of this has got to be the rootkit debacle.

    I miss the Sony of old. But I'm done with them.

  • Re:It's simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by andydread ( 758754 ) on Friday February 25, 2011 @10:38AM (#35311848)
    Yell it out on top of your voice. You are the only person I have seen that has a grasp on the free market. A free market requires *informed* consumers. Consumers have to be properly informed about the merits of a product and the practices of the purveyors of such product. That is the only way consumers can make the correct decisions to vote with their wallet. Companies HATE the fee marketplace and go to great lengths to manipulate it in their favor.
  • Re:It's simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Friday February 25, 2011 @11:58AM (#35312668)
    I disagree with the general sentiment that the average consumer is blissfully ignorant of Sony's malfeasance when it comes to content protection. While the average consumer may not understand it from a big picture perspective, Sony's current position in the market has already been crippled by consumer reaction to how they protect their content.

    Here's Sony's FY2009 sales by segment (slide 4) [sony.net]. Their music division had 522.6 billion yen in sales for FY2009, or about $5.25 billion. Here's Apple's sales for roughly the same period [corporate-ir.net] (PDF warning). In FY2009, Apple sold $8.09 billion worth of iPods, and had ~$4 billion worth of music sales in the iTunes store.

    What does everyone remember Sony being famous for? The Walkman. When the MP3 market took off, everyone just assumed that Sony would be a big player in it. Sony was synonymous with expensive but high quality portable music players, so it was natural to expect a fantastic MP3 player from them. But Sony's music division somehow managed to force their electronics division to encumber their MP3 players with heavy DRM. At first they wouldn't even play MP3s - you had to buy/convert to some proprietary format which, in preventing you from trading songs or converting to MP3, made it extraordinarily difficult just to put your music on the player. People warned each other in droves [amazon.com] to stay away from it.

    As a result, Sony has a negligible presence in the MP3 player market today. In order to protect their music division which has approx $5 billion/yr in sales, they missed the opportunity to grab the lead in a new electronics product market where the current leader makes over $12 billion/yr. They let the tail wag the dog, and paid dearly for it.
  • by bit01 ( 644603 ) on Friday February 25, 2011 @01:13PM (#35313474)

    That's not really a justification.

    It is actually. Those kids are harming no one and they are better off. The world is a better place. Really.

    Uptight content "owners" need to get their head around that fact. The amount of broken law making being done in the name of "controlling" those harmless kids is a travesty of the democratic process.

    Content "owners" need to understand what "ownership" is; simply the right given to them by we the people to control most, though not all, uses of some object or entity.

    e.g. Owning some real estate allows you, with planning permission, build a house on it and restrict access to others but, depending on the country or area, doesn't give you the right to build a shop in a residential zone or dig a big hole endangering neighboring structures. These seem reasonable restrictions on this particular style of physical object.

    The concept of "ownership" maps fairly well to the physical restriction that only one person can use a physical object at a time but when it comes to non-physical entities there is very little that's natural about "ownership." "Ownership" of non-physical entities is a very messy concept with no clear definition or boundaries. Vendors are able to "sell" copies of bits and give only very restricted access to those bits while still calling it a sale. First sale doctrine [wikipedia.org] and free speech [wikipedia.org] just some of the many traditional rights that vendors are trampling all over with DRM and broken law at the moment.

    Personally, I'd like to see "intellectual property" law that recognizes that artificial scarcity is an artificial, harmful construct that should be structured and kept to the bare minimum necessary to encourage people to create. Copyright terms should be drastically reduced (e.g. 7 years) and not apply when something is DRM'ed. There should be many exceptions for socially useful activities (e.g. education, third world, the poor, reverse engineering for compatibility). Contravention of such laws should be a misdemeanor only. Patents should be very restricted and require significant proof that it took a lot of time and effort to research, not develop, something. etc.

    Artificial scarcity blocks billions of peoples' free speech and drastically limits the spread and use of ideas so that a very small number can have an increased profit. That's not right.


    Copyright rewards distributors (copiers) far more than creators.

  • by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Friday February 25, 2011 @01:24PM (#35313632) Homepage

    Show me the FOSS attempts that beat -- or even match -- Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premier, Adobe Flash Pro (not the client), Sony Vegas, MS Visual Studio, MS Excel, MS Project, WinRAR, QuickBooks, TurboTax, Google Search, GMail, Picasa, Facebook, etc. And let's not get started on entire categories where FOSS efforts are minimal or entirely absent: games, navigation, business software (point-of-sale, processing, inventory management, banking, medical, legal, industrial), and let's throw in AI software like Watson while we're at it, if only because it comes from IBM, one of the biggest commercial OSS advocates ever.

    Those are just off the top of my head.

    Now granted, the technologies behind some of those products may be FOSS, but that's not really the point. I'm pretty sure there are plenty of drivers compiled with gcc, but that doesn't inherently make them any more useful, or any higher quality. Also, Chrome itself is not open source.

The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first. -- Blaise Pascal