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Sony killed Linux on the PlayStation 3, and now it has to pay the price

A settlement appears to be on the horizon thanks to a deal that was reached on Friday between Sony and lawyers representing millions of PlayStation 3 owners (PDF here, via Ars Technica). The agreement was made before Judge Yvonne Gonzalez in California’s Oakland courthouse, but still needs to be approved by a federal judge before Sony can hand out money to each PlayStation 3 owner. The proposed settlement will be viewed next month.

So what is Sony’s settlement all about? Glad you asked.

A long, long time ago in what now seems like an alternate universe, the Sony PlayStation 3 allowed the installation of a secondary operating system based on Linux or Unix. This function was listed as “Install Other OS” on the console’s XMB interface, and was ripped out with the introduction of the newer PS3 Slim model and firmware version 3.21. Many PlayStation 3 owners, both old and new customers alike, were not happy with the change, given that one of Sony’s major PlayStation 3 selling points became a defunct option.

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The reason Sony provided for removing secondary OS support was due to “security reasons.” When the v3.21 firmware update went live, Patrick Seybold, senior director of corporate communications and social media, merely indicated that the feature was removed to make the PlayStation 3 platform more secure. Customers of the older system had a choice of not updating to the v3.21 firmware, but they would not have access to the PlayStation Network. They also wouldn’t be able to run software or play videos that required the latest firmware.

Sony saw a number of class-action lawsuits filed against the company over the “Other OS” issue starting in April 2010. These lawsuits were dismissed one after another by the beginning of December, 2011, because they failed to show how Sony would be liable. However, the last dismissal was reversed in January 2014 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and that particular lawsuit was returned to the district court.

And now here we are, years later, with a settlement finally on the way.

“Approximately 10 million units were sold in the United States and ranged in price from approximately $400 to $600,” the legal agreement states. ‘Throughout the pendency of the case, Defendant has vigorously denied liability. Among other things, Defendant has argued that it had the right to remove the Other OS pursuant to its terms of service and other purported agreements, and that the Other OS was not a functionality that was material to the vast majority of purchasers.”

However, according to the agreement, millions of North American customers will soon be eligible to submit a Claim Form to receive a $55 settlement, or a smaller $9 settlement. In order to get the larger sum, customers must show proof that they actually ran another operating system on the PlayStation 3. Otherwise, consumers will get $9 if they show in a valid claim that the console lost its value when Sony removed the Other OS function.

“There is no limit on the number of valid claims that Defendant is required to pay,” the document adds. “The Parties believe the terms of the Agreement are fair, reasonable and adequate, and that the Court should grant preliminary approval. Accordingly, Plaintiffs respectfully request that the Court grant this motion.”

A “notice program” will be launched to send out two rounds of emails to customers who are potential recipients of a settlement. Banner ads and search-related advertising related to the settlement will also be flashed on the likes of CNET, IGN, GameSpot, and other related sites. There will even be a “settlement website” that will play host to the settlement notice and “key documents.”

Finally, the agreement shows that Sony will shell out $3,500 for each plaintiff as recognition for their continued efforts to reach a settlement. These individuals paid to retain council, provided their PlayStation 3 consoles as evidence, and so on. Attorney’s fees and expense reimbursement will be an additional $2,250,000, which Sony will be required to pay.

The final approval hearing is scheduled to take place on November 8, 2016, the document shows.