Sony’s attempts to avoid future lawsuits over anything that has to do with the PlayStation Network have led to a lawsuit that could puzzle lawyers and philosophers alike.
As we reported in September, Sony decided it was so sick of being hit with class action suits over its various hacking incidents and compromised data that it demanded PSN users in North America to agree to new terms and conditions. Those who agreed to the rules would have to formally waive the right to take court action over any dispute with Sony and instead agree to arbitration. (Even if a customer won an arbitration verdict, it would be far less costly for Sony than losing a class action court case.)
Customers had to agree to the terms to carry on using PSN and playing online. To make things even worse, while agreeing the new terms involved a simple on-screen click, a subsequent 30-day cooling period could only be exercised by a mailed letter.
Both Electronics Arts and Microsoft have now added similar terms for the user agreements for Origin and the Xbox 360 dashboard respectively.
The Gamespot site has now uncovered a class action suit filed in November disputing Sony’s right to insist on such a rule. Its main point is that it’s an unfair business practice simply because it effectively leaves users with no choices other than to give up legal rights, or stop using a device they’d already paid for.
The suit also argues that the opt-out process is inadequate, as well as accusing Sony of trying to mislead customers by not making the new rules available online and instead burying them at the end of a 21-page licensing agreement that users will only see once, on the PS3 itself.
There is of course a major potential problem here. In theory the lawyers can argue about the facts of the case such as whether changing the rules is allowed (which may depend on whether PSN use is seen as a benefit of buying a PS3), whether customers could make an informed decision about the change, and whether people even have the ability to give up the right to take court action anyway.
In practice, unless everyone who’s signed up as a plaintiff has successfully written to Sony to reject the new rules, then under the PSN user agreement they can’t actually bring this case. That means that a court will first have to rule on whether the plaintiffs can proceed with this case — at which point the issues of the case itself will inherently have been settled.