Sony Pictures pulled the release of its new film “The Interview” after major theater chains refused to show the film following terroristic threats by hackers claiming responsibility for the recent infiltration of Sony’s databases.
A group called Guardians of Peace threatened terrorism against theaters showing the film, leading major theater chains to spike releases of the film out of business and safety concerns.
Five major theater chains, including AMC and Cineplex, withdrew from showing “The Interview” before Sony pulled the film from distribution altogether Wednesday, according to the Wall Street Journal. The decision was followed by a 5 percent bump in Sony’s share price.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest won’t confirm the identity of the hackers, and said Thursday that it was “still under investigation,” but the hack and the threats are widely considered to be a retaliatory attack from North Korea for “The Interview,” which follows a plot that has the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un assassinated. It is not clear whether North Korea has the skills to launch such an effective cyberattack.
Korean Central News Agency, the official North Korean news group, denied the allegations but praised the attacks, and a person claiming to represent the Guardians of Peace told CSO Online that the group was an “international organization” not under the control of “any state.”
Still, the belief that North Korea is behind the attack is widespread.
“The decision to retract the movie is a win for terrorist groups and state-sponsors of terrorism,” said Dean Alexander, director of the Homeland Security Research Program at Western Illinois University.
This sentiment has been echoed by a wide number of observers as an affront to free speech, and some theaters began showings of the 2004 film “Team America,” in which former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is ridiculed, as a form of protest, but ended after Paramount Pictures pulled the film from release.
The Alamo Drafthouse theater in Texas made headlines when it announced a special Dec. 27 showing of “Team America” after Wednesday, but retracted the showing the next day, citing a notice from Paramount.
“We take very seriously any attempt to threaten or limit artists’ freedom of speech or of expression,” the National Security Council said in a statement. “The U.S. government is working tirelessly to bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice, and we are considering a range of options in weighing a potential response.”
Financial and Legal Woes
The first wave of damages from the hacking of Sony resulted in the humiliation of top studio bosses after embarrassing emails that disclosed insensitive remarks were leaked to the public, and the problems have only compounded since.
The hackers have also released on the Web the personal information of tens of thousands of current and former Sony employees that were stored on its database, including salaries, medical and bank account information, and Social Security numbers.
On Dec. 1, the company started offering employees identity-theft protection services, but has faced litigation from past employees who were affected by the hack. This week, Sony has been hit with three class-action lawsuits seeking damages from past employees who claim that Sony was negligent in its handling of network security.
Joshua Forster, the plaintiff in the latest lawsuit, said that he has had to cancel his credit card as a pre-emptive measure due to the data breach and signed up for identity theft protection.
Sony potentially faces tens of millions of dollars in damages from a class-action lawsuit, said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment law professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law.
The hackers have released hundreds of gigabytes of data already, but it is unclear how much of their loot the hackers have yet to release. Security experts said that the hackers were able to take virtually everything available on the databases after they gained access to the central authorization credentials.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.