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This story describes how a PlayStation Network (PSN) account holder had their account repeatedly hacked and stolen. Eventually the thief was able to create enough uncertainty that Sony (the service provider in this case) blocked any further changes. Unfortunately they did so when the thief had control, so the original account holder was unable to get it back.

The account holder had taken all reasonable security measures recommended by Sony, including enabling 2-factor authentication and using long unguessable passwords. It is not known for certain how the account was hacked, but it seems to have been done by making repeated calls to customer service agents until the thief found one who could be tricked into disabling the security.

The account in question was quite valuable: it included a number of "purchased" games (scare quotes because of the dubious nature of ownership here) and accumulated achievements from 12 years of play. The thief was offering it on the open market for $1,200.

Once this story went viral Sony suddenly fixed the problem. But suppose that this hadn't happened.

My question is: could the account owner have taken Sony to court to demand the return of the account? Would they have a case?

Sony PSN terms of service are here.

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The TOS states that users with disputes are bound by arbitration (see Arbitration Basics | Nolo.com) unless they opt-out of binding arbitration within 30 days of opening an account. Binding Arbitration means the user is legally bound to work with Sony and a third-party arbitrator - outside of a court - to work out a settlement (and possible refund or return access to the account) that is agreeable to both parties. That rules out suing Sony in state or district courts for damages or to force Sony to give them access to their account again.

But, as per the TOS, users are not prevented from filing in small claims court. Small claims courts are still courts, but they are easier to navigate for citizens and cost less.

Since the court jurisdiction for Sony is California, these are some of the stipulations for filing in California Small Claims Court:

You can sue for up to $10,000, if you are an individual or a sole proprietor. Corporations and other entities are limited to $5,000. In addition, a party (individuals or corporations) can file no more than two claims exceeding $2,500 in any court throughout the State of California during a calendar year. The Small Claims Court - California Department of Consumer Affairs

But the first step in small claims court is always to send a "demand letter" to the potential defendant, a letter that outlines the cause of court action, a request for damages and gives the defendant a chance to agree to a settlement before an actual court filing.

So that user could have looked into suing Sony in small claims, and may have been successful in a settlement from a demand letter to get their account back without even having to formally sue in court.

In general terms, if a user is not in California, whether that person can actually file in California from that other state (with or without a lawyer) may depend on the jurisdiction of that state. And, it depends on the jurisdiction of the home state if one can file in the small claims court of that state against Sony in California.

  • The actual question was about suing to recover the account. Could a small claims court order Sony to restore the account to the legitimate owner? – David Thornley Oct 10 '18 at 20:14
  • It is possible a small claims court could order Sony to restore the account; why wouldn't that be possible? – BlueDogRanch Oct 10 '18 at 21:49
  • @BlueDogRanch: In some counties, small claims court is not heard by a judge, but by a court commissioner/protem judge, and so may not have the full powers of a judge. If the account restoration is seen as ordering Sony to perform an action, the small claim's court's power may be limited. For example, in San Luis Obispo county, "the Small Claims Court commissioner does not have the power to grant injunctions". slocounty.ca.gov/Departments/District-Attorney/…. But I think that is a separate question. – sharur Oct 11 '18 at 0:43

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