THE INTERVIEW Canceled: FBI Eyes North Korea
December 19, 2014 by Katherine Imp
“Dear Sony Hackers: now that u run Hollywood, I’d also like less romantic comedies, fewer Michael Bay movies and no more Transformers.”
This tweet, sent by Michael Moore on December 17, is a funny yet frightening reminder that the “Sony Cyber Leak” is more than your typical Hollywood scandal. In four short weeks, the Sony cyber-terrorists, self-proclaimed the “Guardians of Peace,” have not only shattered the illusion of Hollywood, they have also called into question our limits on freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and our ability to protect against cyber-terrorism.
Approximately four weeks ago, these “cyber-terrorists” hacked into Sony’s computer systems, crippled their operations, and released over 100 terabytes (that’s a lot) of confidential information (including film budgets, employees’ salaries, and juicy email exchanges between top executives) on blogs and file-sharing websites. Of particular interest was a spreadsheet sent by the hackers to a blogger at Fusion.net, listing the $1,000,000+ salaries of the top twenty executives at Sony, 94% of which were male, and 88% of which were white. [Note that these salaries don’t include other forms of compensation such as bonuses, warrants, stock, and other perks.]
Additionally, personal data, including social security numbers, driver’s licenses, bank information, credit card data, and health information, has also been compromised. This has led to a string of class action lawsuits by current and former employees of Sony, claiming the studio did not work hard enough to protect their private information from hackers.
Though the “Guardians of Peace” have threatened to continue releasing information “unless their demands were met,” it wasn’t clear what those demands were… until this week.
On December 16, Sony’s cyber-terrorists released the following cryptic message:
We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places “The Interview” be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to. Soon all the world will see what an awful movie Sony Pictures Entertainment has made. The world will be full of fear. Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.) Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment. All the world will denounce SONY.
Later that day, four of the largest movie-theater chains in the country ran for the hills, cancelling the planned December 25 release of THE INTERVIEW in their theatres. THE INTERVIEW centers on a hapless television host who is recruited to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and stars Seth Rogen and James Franco. The film reportedly cost $44 million to produce, with Seth Rogen taking home $8.4 million and James Franco earning $6.5 million.
And then there’s Homeland Security. After reviewing the 9/11 threat, the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement saying it is “still analyzing the credibility of these statements,” but that “at this time there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States.”
Nevertheless, on December 17, Sony announced its decision to cancel THE INTERVIEW’s entire U.S. theatrical and VOD release.
In the midst of THE INTERVIEW madness, Sony has also begun to shut down various media organizations with cease and desist letters, claiming the “stolen information” is protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and that Sony “does not consent to your possession, review, copying, dissemination, publication, uploading, downloading or making use.” The DMCA criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures that control access to copyrighted works and heightens penalties for copyright infringement on the Internet.
A number of publishers have fought back, claiming the information is “newsworthy” and therefore protected under the 1st amendment’s freedom of the press provision.
As of this morning, December 19, the FBI has released a press statement declaring that “the FBI now has enough information to conclude that the North Korean government is responsible for these actions” and that “North Korea’s attack on [Sony] reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States.”
On its surface, the “Sony Cyber Leak” may perhaps seem like just another provocative story about someone or something in the entertainment industry. However, I’d argue that the ramifications of this specific act of cyber terrorism have, and will, extend much deeper that the walls of Sony Pictures Entertainment. We have now set a precedent that a single, cyber attack can have the power to restrict our freedom of expression in works of art, put thousands of innocent people in danger of identity theft, and humanize the once-fantastic and magical, now depressing and corrupt, billion-dollar world of Hollywood.
Katherine (Kate) Imp is an entertainment attorney at Ramo Law PC and Chicago native. She specializes in film finance, production and distribution for clients in Illinois and across the country. Contact Kate at @KatherineImp or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: The information in this column is intended for general information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.