Sony Isn't quite right about the Supreme Court

Lest we forget that Sony isn’t the most trustable company in the tech industry, Sony’s latest Terms of Service agreement on the Playstation Network asks you to give up your rights to take Sony to court. Sony claims the Supreme Court backs them up, but that’s not quite true.

CNN has reported that a representative from Sony has boasted that despite customer frustrations over their new Terms of Service agreement and the potential of legal challenges, their anti-litigation agreement is backed by the Supreme Court. In case you weren’t already aware of the controversy, Sony’s latest Terms of Service agreement, an agreement that Playstation users must agree to if they choose to use the Playstation Network, requires users to forgo their rights to litigation and class action suits against Sony. Essentially, this means that if your account were to be hacked due to poor security on Sony’s part or otherwise, you would have waived your right to take Sony to court and would instead have agreed to arbitration, a legal procedure in which a consumer sits down with a judge and the company in question to find an appropriate resolution to the problem. There isn’t actually anything wrong with arbitration, and in fact, many companies and various court systems have stated their preference to arbitration over litigation due to the expediency and lower cost to all parties involved. The counter argument of course is that a “fair trial” includes a jury, something an arbitration procedure does not include. To an extent this is a philosophical argument, but there is a reasonable argument to be had on either side of the fence.

But let’s not read too much into Sony’s supposed “Supreme Court support.” The Supreme Court rules on one thing and one thing only; the US Constitution. In order for any decision to end up before the highest court of the US, it must first be determined to have relevance in a Constitutional sense. The case Sony referred to in the comments to CNN regards the constitutionality of an arbitration contract with AT&T and its customers. The Supreme Court simply found that a contract which states a consumer agrees not to sue AT&T wasn’t necessarily unconstitutional. The case in no way says that Sony’s Terms of Service agreement is valid. Contracts are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and courts both State and Federal can invalidate a contract as “unconscionable,” and therefore invalid, for many reasons. If fact, Contract Law, particularly for class action suits, varies drastically around the country leading to many different contract rulings; for example, California breaks down class action suits into four different codified types that are addressed differently, in opposition to Virginia where class action suits aren’t even allowed. The Supreme Court has only stated that on its face, an agreement that takes away a consumer’s right to litigation isn’t necessarily against constitutional standards. Sony can claim this Supreme Court case is justification all that want, but in the end, a court would get to decide if that was true.

Whether or not you think Sony’s latest Terms of Service agreement is anti-consumer or not is up to you, but its good to keep in mind that it isn’t a be-all-end-all legal issue for the Playstation Network. You have options if you want to get out of the agreement, and if you aren’t worried, you’re probably fine too. Sony isn’t backing you into a corner, and they haven’t got nearly the strength they might claim they do. Now, everyone take a deep breath.