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Many owners of the world’s most sophisticated robot pet, the cuddly Aibo, are growling at Sony Corp. over its demand that a Web site stop distributing free software that teaches the machine new tricks. “It was a very stiff legal position Sony took without regard to how it will affect the Aibo community,” said Richard Walkus, a publishing house employee from Madison, N.J., who owns two Aibo robots but is now putting any new Aibo orders on hold. “Sony is to some degree undermining its own success.” In a letter last month, Sony told the owner of the AiboHack site that he was violating its copyright and altering its product without a license. It demanded that a long list of Aibo software — including code that teaches the machine disco steps and new words — be pulled off the site. The owner, who goes only by the name AiboPet, posted the text of the letter on his site, deleting his real name from it. He said he complied with Sony’s demand even though he believes, as do many “hackers,” that people who buy copyrighted software should be allowed to let third parties add modifications. Sony has sold more than 100,000 Aibos worldwide, and hasn’t been persuaded by the argument that the AiboHack software helps sales. They acknowledge sending the letter, but decline to give the addressee’s name. “This is a legal issue,” said Sony’s Entertainment Robot America spokesman Jon Piazza. “We don’t support the development of software by manipulating the existing Aibo software code — hacking it.” Aibo owners are famous for their devotion to their Chihuahua-size robots, dressing them up like babies and holding events to show off the mechanical animals they swear develop personalities. The robots aren’t cheap, $2,500 when first introduced two years ago. Resembling a dachshund, a lion cub or a teddy bear, depending on the model, they now sell for $850. The newest model was being introduced in Tokyo last week. Owners usually spend hundreds of dollars more on Aibo software from Sony, and some said they were thrilled with free software from AiboPet. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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