Sony is immune to class-action suits? One PS3 owner begs to differ

By on December 21, 2011, 7:24 AM

Sony's had a tough year. After a series of humiliating security breaches, the Japanese firm stood as a punching bag for the tech community, disproving the old adage that any publicity is good publicity. The company reportedly spent $171 million to resolve the fiasco, it's facing a class-action lawsuit and its share price tumbled throughout the year.

Hoping to prevent further retaliation, the company issued a mandatory PlayStation 3 update in September forbidding customers from pursing joint litigation. The patch contained a new End User Agreement clause ("Binding Individual Arbitration" -- PDF) that prevented users from joining a class-action suit, forcing them to sue individually.

It was only a matter of time before someone challenged Sony's move and one Northern Californian man has stepped up to the plate, according to GameSpot. In a fitting stroke of irony, the unnamed individual filed suit on behalf of everyone who purchased a PlayStation 3 before the recent change -- a class-action suit disputing a "no class-action" clause.

We haven't seen the complaint, but GameSpot says it accuses Sony of unfair business practices by forcing consumers to choose the lesser of two evils: either they waive their right to a class-action suit or they lose access to the online gaming network they essentially paid for when they purchased the console. A lose-lose for PlayStation users.

The allegations go a step further, claiming Sony tried to hide the changes by burying them in 21 pages of legalese. It's also noted that Sony failed to post an easily accessible version of the form online, despite doing so with previous user agreement updates, and the company made it needlessly difficult for users to opt out of the new class-action provision.

To escape the stipulation, customers were required to notify Sony about their disapproval within 30 days and it had to be in written form -- no phone calls, emails, Web forms or any other easy outs. Even if you hastily penned and mailed a letter, one could speculate whether Sony would even record its receipt, forcing you to pay for extra delivery services.

Unfortunately, Sony isn't alone in trying to thwart class-action cases. A few weeks after the new PSN agreement was introduced, EA added similar language to Origin's ToS. When you sign up for the service, you "expressly waive the right to a trial by jury or to participate in a class action," instead agreeing to resolve disputes through a neutral arbitrator.

Microsoft mirrored those guidelines earlier this month when it rolled out the latest version of the Xbox 360 dashboard, adding two sub-sections (18.1.4 and 18.1.6) that have you surrender your right to legal remedies -- class-action or otherwise. Blizzard goes to similar lengths, dedicating a wall of text to binding arbitration and class-action restrictions.

As a side note, the latest filing follows only a week after a judge dismissed the "Other OS" case against Sony. The company was sued in April 2010 after releasing a patch that retracted the PlayStation 3's support for Linux -- a feature proudly advertised before its removal. GameSpot offers a full write-up on the court's decision in that case if you're interested.

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