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Sony Hackers: Crushing a Movie and Exposing Private Information

Sony Hackers Challenge an Industry
Sony Hackers

How do hackers from a midget country darken movie screens nationwide in the USA?  Sony hackers did just that.

One Monday in November, 2014, workers at Sony Pictures, the $8 billion dollar a year movie production company arrived at work to find the corporate computer system down.  A red skeleton on monitors blared a warning the system was hacked by “The Guardians of Peace”, who would not cease until Sony was destroyed.

Sony, purchaser of the MGM Studios and Columbia pictures found hard drives wiped, the email system shut down and company data gone.

Sony blockbusters include the Spider-Man movies, Robocop, Men in Black and thousands of others.  Now, its computer system was gutted and company data was released worldwide.

North Korea caused the cyberattack on Sony Pictures according to the FBI. Investigators said they identified techniques used in the Sony attack to previous North Korean hacking attacks.

After breaking into Sony’s servers, hackers published private emails and internal information then threatened to attack U.S. cinemas showing the movie “The Interview”.  The movie is a satire about a TV producer and anchor set free by the CIA to assassinate North Korea’s leader.

Under the threat of attack, movie theatres refused to show the film and Sony cancelled its release.  But later, under heavy criticism, Sony reversed course and released the film for screening in independent cinemas and online.

North Korea, Really?  Brings Down the US Movie Industry?

North Korea is about the size of Ohio.   North Korea’s population, 25 million is one twelfth that of the 316 million population of the U.S.

Movie industry people often jump to defend free speech rights.  Outspoken Hollywood actors and actresses are usually the first to object to any challenge to say anything at any time.

The USA is home to rapid development of computer technology, even if certain manufacturing is outsourced.  The USA landed 12 humans on the moon and brought each home alive, while 40 years later only 2 other countries have landed unmanned lunar spacecraft.  The USA has landed several rovers on Mars two of which continue to crawl around the Red Planet sending data back to Earth daily.

North Korea can barely generate electricity, with power transmission considered sporadic and unreliable.

Yet now, a billion dollar industry that has placed center finger up to presidents and other leaders cowered to a country one twelfth the size of the USA?

Public Exposure of Hacked Private Information

Sony lawyers sent press releases to major news outlets warning them not to publish internal Sony documents released by the hackers.  But most First Amendment experts doubt Sony has any basis.

In a 2001 U.S. Supreme Court case a radio broadcaster aired a cellphone conversation between a teacher’s union president and union negotiators that had been recorded illegally.  The issue was whether the illegally intercepted conversation was protected by the First Amendment.  The Court ruled that First Amendment protections outweighed privacy concerns where the radio station played no part in the illegal recording.

Can All Hacked Information be Released

At the other end of the spectrum, intellectual property law protects some of the hacked info.  For example hackers also reportedly obtained a draft of the script for the next James Bond film.  Their release of the screenplay draft poses a potential problem.  But First Amendment experts point out that release of the entire script would comprise copyright infringement.

We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States, because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary they don’t like, or news reports they don’t like.

President Obama, December 18, 2014

The chief executive of Sony Pictures retorted “We have not caved” and “we have not backed down”.  But questions remain about how, after notorious hacks at major big box retailers and banks, industries across the board are still vulnerable.  And, beyond a war of words, what will be the policy of the USA and private industry in confronting threats and damage by hackers?

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Attorney Myers is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association, Massachusetts Academy of Trial Lawyers, and New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association. The Law Offices of Andrew D. Myers offer a broad range of legal services in personal injury cases in Massachusetts (MA) and New Hampshire (NH) areas.

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