Business & Economy

Sony hack: Google speaks out against MPAA anti-piracy/anti-Google efforts

Multiple media outlets are reporting that U.S. intelligence officials believe North Korea was centrally involved in the recent attack on Sony Pictures' computer network, though the White House stopped short of naming the isolated communist nation in a press briefing on the morning of Thursday, December 18, 2014.
Multiple media outlets are reporting that U.S. intelligence officials believe North Korea was centrally involved in the recent attack on Sony Pictures' computer network, though the White House stopped short of naming the isolated communist nation in a press briefing on the morning of Thursday, December 18, 2014.
Kevork Djansezian/Reuters/Landov

Update 4:42 p.m. Google speaks out against MPAA anti-piracy/anti-Google efforts revealed in Sony hack

Google spoke out Thursday against efforts the Motion Picture Association of America, the film industry's lobbying group, was reportedly involved in trying to push an approach to combating piracy that was previously defeated legislatively — and, as part of that, attacking Google. The information about the MPAA, which represents studios including Sony, came out in information released by hackers from the Sony hack.

"We are deeply concerned about recent reports that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) led a secret, coordinated campaign to revive the failed SOPA legislation through other means," Google senior vice president and general counsel Kent Walker wrote in a blog post on Google's Public Policy Blog, "and helped manufacture legal arguments in connection with an investigation by Mississippi State Attorney General Jim Hood."

The Stop Online Piracy Act, aka SOPA, was a piece of congressional legislation that included provisions that would block websites seen as being involved with piracy. Google, citing statistics from an anti-SOPA nonprofit, notes that 115,000 sites participated in a protest against SOPA and that Congress received more than 8 million phone calls and 4 million emails regarding SOPA.

"One disappointing part of this story is what this all means for the MPAA itself, an organization founded in part 'to promote and defend the First Amendment and artists' right to free expression,'" Walker writes. "Why, then, is it trying to secretly censor the Internet?"

Google cites recent press reports coming out of the Sony hacks, making three points:

"The MPAA conspired to achieve SOPA’s goals through non-legislative means"

Google cites reporting from the Verge saying that the MPAA, in cooperation with six studios including Sony, joined together to try to revive SOPA. The plans involved convincing state prosecutors to go after Google, with each studio budgeting $500,000 for legal support and the MPAA seeking $1.175 million to use in these efforts.

The Verge reports that the leaked correspondence includes a code name for Google: "Goliath," with the efforts against Google and to achieve their anti-piracy goals named "Project Goliath." Like the Bible story of Goliath, they wrote depicting themselves as the David in this situation, taking Goliath down.

"The MPAA pointed its guns at Google"

Citing the New York Times, Google says that MPAA hired law firm Jenner & Block to attack Google, while also funding a nonprofit called "the Digital Citizens Alliance" to lead its efforts to combat Google.

"The MPAA did the legal legwork for the Mississippi State Attorney General"

The MPAA also reportedly pitched their plan to Mississippi State Attorney General Jim Hood, who was already a supporter of SOPA, Google says.

"Even though Google takes industry-leading measures in dealing with problematic content on our services, Attorney General Hood proceeded to send Google a sweeping 79-page subpoena, covering a variety of topics over which he lacks jurisdiction," Walker wrote in the Google blog post.

Google cites Hood telling the Huffington Post that the MPAA "has no major influence on my decision-making," while both the Post and the Verge report Hood had conversations with MPAA staff and attorneys from their law firm.

Mike Roe/KPCC

Previously: 'Sophisticated actor' behind cyberattack, White House says

The White House said Thursday that evidence shows the hack against Sony Pictures was carried out by a "sophisticated actor" with "malicious intent," according to the Associated Press.

A number of media outlets citing anonymous sources — including NPR, The New York Times, NBC News and TIME magazine — have reported that U.S. intelligence officials are linking North Korea to the attack.

KPCC has not independently confirmed this information, and at least one media outlet claims the evidence against North Korea is flimsy at best.

Spokesman Josh Earnest declined to blame North Korea, saying he doesn't want to get ahead of investigations by the Justice Department and the FBI, according to AP.

Whoever was behind the studio hack has pulled off what one cybersecurity expert says may be the costliest ever for a U.S. company.

"This attack went to the heart and core of Sony's business and succeeded," Avivah Litan, an analyst with research firm Gartner, told AP. "We haven't seen any attack like this in the annals of U.S. breach history."

The attack prompted Sony to cancel the Christmas Day release of "The Interview," a comedy about an assassination plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, after the hacker group calling itself "Guardians of Peace" threatened physical violence against moviegoers. Several theaters had already backed out of screening the film, and Sony subsequently said it had no further plans to release the movie.

The fallout

Fallout from the cyberattack and Sony's response to it continue to ripple across the entertainment industry.

Two more former employees of Sony Pictures Entertainment are suing the company over the leak of their personal information, bringing the number of lawsuits so far to three, AP reports. The suit was filed Wednesday and seeks class-action status for current and former Sony employees whose information was hacked from the company's servers:

Ella Carline Archibeque, accuses Sony of holding on to her medical info long after she left the company in 2009. Joshua Forster, a Denver resident, worked for the company in various roles from 2006 until February.

Meanwhile, Sony's decision to scrap showings of "The Interview" has prompted widespread criticism from celebrities within Hollywood.

Judd Apatow, the successful comedy filmmaker and frequent collaborator with "The Interview" star Seth Rogen, warned on Wednesday that "when a hacker threatens to shut down free speech, or a disgruntled employee threatens to shut down free speech, it sets a very dangerous precedent."

"Everything in our culture is not liked by somebody, and as soon as we say that we're going to shut it down just because someone posted something on the Internet, we're changing the world in a big way," Apatow said, speaking with The Frame's John Horn.

In a show of support for artistic freedom in Hollywood, a Dallas-area theater pledged to screen "Team America: World Police," a film that lampoons Kim's late father, Kim Jong Il.

AP reports:

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Richardson on Thursday advertised the Dec. 27 showing of "Team America" as a show of support for freedom. It says it marks the 10-year anniversary of the film by "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, which featured a puppet version of Kim Jong Il as a singing, lonely villain.

However, the theater backpedaled Thursday, saying that Paramount decided not to offer the film, according to Deadline.

The content of leaked emails has also prompted calls for Sony co-chairman Amy Pascal to step down.

According to the Los Angeles Times, African American advocacy group ColorOfChange claims that more than 30,000 of its members have called on Pascal to be fired following the discovery of an email exchange, leaked in the cyberattack, in which she wonders what to talk to President Barack Obama about at an event:

"Should I ask him if he liked DJANGO?" she wrote, referring to the film about a freed slave. Later in the exchange, Pascal wondered if she should ask Obama if he liked two other African American-focused films, "The Butler" and "Think Like a Man."

Pascal apologized last week, calling the comments “insensitive and inappropriate, but not an accurate reflection of who I am.”

Pascal was scheduled to meet with Rev. Al Sharpton Thursday morning in Manhattan after she called him to discuss the emails, according to the Times.

This story has been updated.