Sony has been given permission to obtain details of people who downloaded files needed to hack the PlayStation 3. A judge in San Francisco granted the electronics giant a subpoena that would allow it to see a list of IP addresses.
The software, used to crack the PS3's operating system, was posted on the website of George Hotz, who is also known as Geohot.
Sony is suing Mr Hotz, claiming his hacks breach copyright laws, and could allow users to play pirated games.
Court documents, obtained by Wired magazine, show that the company successfully petitioned to obtain IP addresses from the web-hosting company Bluehost. The details could be used to trace the real-world geographical locations of users who accessed George Hotz's website, Geohot.com. However, it may not be Sony's intention to take legal action against those found to have downloaded the software crack.
Sources with knowledge of the case said there was unlikely to be the appetite for a prolonged and expensive series of legal challenges. Rather, the subpoena document suggests that Sony wants to discover the number and location of the downloaders in order to establish jurisdiction in its case against Mr Hotz.
"SCEA [Sony Computer Entertainment America] needs to determine how rampant the access to and use of these circumvention devices has been in California in order to rebut Mr Hotz's suggestion that his illicit conduct was not aimed at the forum state," the document reads. The subpoena also grants Sony the right to access information relating to the case from Twitter, Google Blogspot and YouTube.
The company had previously been granted a restraining order against Mr Hotz, banning him from revealing techniques to manipulate the PlayStation 3's operating system.
The 21-year-old, along with a number of other individuals, is charged with violating several copyright-related laws, including the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. He is also accused of offences under the United States' Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
Mr Hotz denies that he set out to help software pirates, claiming instead that he was championing the 'home brew' community - users who write their own software for the PS3.
Sony has said it is now able to remotely identify users who are running hacked PlayStation 3 consoles and that it will ban persistent offenders from using its online services.
This case also raises the issue of having traced an initial users ip, then being able to trace the ip of a third party in another country and trying to apply American laws.