Sony hack: Sony tells theaters they can pull 'The Interview' following threat

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Update 6:42 p.m. Sony tells theaters they can pull 'The Interview' if they want

Sony’s crisis management firm tells KPCC that Sony will release "The Interview" as scheduled, but that it has told theater chains that it will release them from any obligations to screen the film following a threat from hackers that invoked 9/11.

Sony isn't deciding to pull the film, but is offering that option to theater owners. Theater chains have yet to decide whether to screen the film amid safety concerns.

One of the problems theaters face is liability if the film is shown and something does happen at theaters showing the film. At the same time, Sony and theaters don't want to appear as if they're capitulating to the demands of the hackers.

"The Interview's" budget was $44 million, with perhaps another $50 million to $60 million in marketing costs. Sony could release the film on demand, but the studio wouldn't be able to earn nearly as much as it would through a theatrical release.

Before the recent controversy, "The Interview" was set to open in more than 3,000 theaters. It's unknown if insurance would cover any losses if the film is pulled from any theaters.

Previously, there was an attack on theatergoers at a showing of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colo., in 2012.

KPCC staff with John Horn

4:24 p.m. The Los Angeles Police Department said it's taking extra precautions after a group of hackers made a threat against theaters showing the Sony Pictures movie "The Interview."  The group that made the threat is the same one that's been releasing emails from Sony executives. 

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck told KPCC that the department takes those kinds of threats seriously. He also says the message shouldn't deter people from enjoying a movie at the theaters — but if you see something, say something.
"We can't be everywhere at once, but the public is. And the public is much more familiar with their normal surroundings than we are," Beck said. "And you see things out of place, you see people doing things out of place, ... and when you see that, we need to know about it so we can take corrective action."
A  Department of Homeland Security official told KPCC that the agency is aware of the threat — and that there's no credible evidence at this time to indicate that there is an active plot against movie theaters.

KPCC staff

2:49 p.m.: New lawsuit; DHS says no evidence of plot

An official with the Department of Homeland Security told KPCC that it is aware of the threat made in connection with Sony's upcoming film "The Interview," but that it has no credible intelligence to suggest an active plot against American movie theaters.

The official, speaking to KPCC on background, added that the DHS is analyzing the credibility of the statement, purportedly from the group that hacked into Sony Pictures Entertainment and that calls itself the Guardians of Peace.

The FBI told the Associated Press that it is aware of the threats and "continues to work collaboratively with our partners to investigate this matter." It declined to comment on whether North Korea or another country was behind the attack. Speculation about a North Korean link to the Sony hacking has centered on that country's angry denunciation of the film. Over the summer, North Korea warned that the film's release would be an "act of war that we will never tolerate." It said the U.S. will face "merciless" retaliation.

The New York Police Department, after coordinating with the FBI and Sony, plans to beef up security at the Manhattan premiere, John Miller, the NYPD's top counterterrorism official, told the AP.

"Having read through the threat material myself, it's actually not crystal clear whether it's a cyber response that they are threatening or whether it's a physical attack," Miller said. "That's why we're continuing to evaluate the language of it, and also the source of it. I think our primary posture is going to be is going to have a police presence and a response capability that will reassure people who may have heard about this and have concerns."

Meanwhile, Sony is facing a second lawsuit over the leak of Sony documents and employees' personal information, including social security numbers, medical history and other details, this time in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses Sony of waiting too long to notify employees that data such as Social Security numbers, salaries and medical records had been stolen. The suit is filed by two former Sony film production workers, Susan Dukow and Yvonne Yaconelli, the Associated Press reported.

Their filing comes one day after two other former Sony employees filed a class action lawsuit in federal court. Both cases seek to represent current and former Sony employees who private data was posted online.

The Culver City division of Japan's Sony Corp. has not responded to requests for comment on the lawsuits.

1:31 p.m.: Rogen, Franco cancel press appearances following threats

James Franco and Seth Rogen, stars of "The Interview," have canceled their scheduled press appearances Tuesday and Wednesday following vague threats from the Sony hackers that invoked 9/11.

A representative for Rogen confirmed the cancellations to The Hollywood Reporter and said they would "reassess Thursday," the same day the film is scheduled to premiere in New York at The Sunshine Cinema.

BuzzFeed earlier reported the two stars were pulling out of all planned media appearances Tuesday.

10:51 a.m.: Hackers issue threats, employees sue, more

Shoes continued to fall Tuesday in the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment, with the hackers issuing threats in the first phase of a promised "Christmas gift" data release and employees whose data was stolen filing suit against the company.

In its latest communication with media organizations, the hacker group that calls itself Guardians of Peace issued vague threats that invoked 9/11, according to The Hollywood Reporter:

The message, which was riddled with grammatical errors, is far more menacing than previous messages and threatens an event reminiscent of the 9/11 terror attacks. In the Tuesday message, which accompanied the latest batch of stolen documents, GOP warned: "We will clearly show [the remainder of the Christmas gift] 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."

Meanwhile, two former employees filed a federal lawsuit in connection with the hack. They allege Sony did not prevent hackers from stealing nearly 50,000 social security numbers, salary details and other personal information from current and former workers, reports the Associated Press. 

The Los Angeles Times reported:

Lawyers representing two former Sony Pictures employees filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court in Los Angeles. The 45-page complaint on behalf of former and current employees alleges that the Culver City studio was negligent by ignoring warnings that its computer system was prone to attack.

Sony “failed to secure its computer systems, servers and databases, despite weaknesses that it has known about for years" and "subsequently failed to timely protect confidential information of its current and former employees from law-breaking hackers," according to the complaint filed late Monday by the Seattle law firm, Keller Rohrback.

The plaintiffs are asking for compensation for fixing credit reports, monitoring bank account and other costs as well as damages, according to AP. obtained a copy of the lawsuit, which it has posted here.

In a related story, The Verge posted a report based on a hacked Sony email in which it says the Motion Picture Association of America is considering a legal strategy to combat piracy that would change the Domain Name System, or DNS, which directs traffic across the Internet:

Most anti-piracy tools take one of two paths: they either target the server that's sharing the files (pulling videos off YouTube or taking down sites like The Pirate Bay) or they make it harder to find (delisting offshore sites that share infringing content). But leaked documents reveal a frightening line of attack that's currently being considered by the MPAA: What if you simply erased any record that the site was there in the first place?

To do that, the MPAA's lawyers would target the Domain Name System (DNS) that directs traffic across the internet. The tactic was first proposed as part of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in 2011, but three years after the law failed in Congress, the MPAA has been looking for legal justification for the practice in existing law and working with ISPs like Comcast to examine how a system might work technically. If the system works, DNS-blocking could be the key to the MPAA's long-standing goal of blocking sites from delivering content to the U.S. At the same time, it represents a bold challenge to the basic engineering of the Internet, threatening to break the very backbone of the web and drawing the industry into an increasingly nasty fight with Google.

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