Sony Breach: Studio Cancels Film Release'The Interview' Pulled After Terror Threats Against Theaters
One day after hackers made a "terror" threat against movie theaters and theatergoers - in relation to the release of the forthcoming Sony Pictures Entertainment comedy "The Interview," the studio canceled the release of the film.
"In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film, we have decided not to move forward with the planned Dec. 25 theatrical release," the company says in a statement sent to USA Today on Dec. 17. "We respect and understand our partners' decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers."
Following the threat, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that "at this time there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States."
Sony Pictures did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"The Interview" stars James Franco and Seth Rogen - who also co-directed - as a tabloid TV reporting team who land an interview with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang, but who get approached by the CIA to instead assassinate him.
Theater Chains React to Warning
A group that calls itself the Guardians of Peace, which claimed responsibility for the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment, said in a Dec. 16 warning: "Remember the 11th of September 2001. 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. ... We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you'd better leave.)"
The warning was contained in a message posted to the FriendPaste and Pastebin text-sharing websites, by G.O.P. following the group's damaging Nov. 24 wiper malware attack against Sony Pictures, as well as its ongoing anti-Sony public relations campaign, which to date has seen the group reportedly release tens of gigabytes of stolen Sony data.
In response to G.O.P.'s threat, Sony Pictures had told theaters that it will allow them to decide whether they want to show the film. On Dec. 16, Carmike Cinemas - the fourth-largest U.S. exhibitor, by number of screens - said it wouldn't show the film, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Following Carmike Cinemas' decision, Regal Entertainment, AMC Entertainment, Cinemark and Cineplex Entertainment all decided not to show the film, according to Yahoo.
The National Association of Theatre Owners issued a statement about theater operators' decisions not to show the film.
"The ability of our guests to enjoy the entertainment they choose in safety and comfort is and will continue to be a priority for theater owners," the association said. "We are encouraged that the authorities have made progress in their investigation and we look forward to the time when the responsible criminals are apprehended. Until that happens, individual cinema operators may decide to delay exhibition of the movie so that our guests may enjoy a safe holiday movie season experiencing the many other exciting films we have to offer."
Al Pascual, director of fraud and security and Javelin Strategy & Research, tells Information Security Media Group: "I suspect that this is a move designed to buy Sony time, with the hope that they can triage the fallout from the breach from a business perspective and continue the investigation to identify those responsible.
"Sony can never be sure that the G.O.P. would hold up any end of a bargain to not release additional information if they canceled 'The Interview' permanently, and further still, the G.O.P. could release additional information at a later date to pressure the company on another initiative. If Sony is honestly going to cancel this movie in reaction to the demands of the G.O.P., it is both naÃ¯ve and sets an incredibly dangerous precedent."
A G.O.P. message earlier this week said that although the group had already released numerous batches of Sony information, it was building toward a bigger "Christmas present" for the movie and television studio (see: Sony Breach Response: Legal Threats).
Then on Dec. 16, it issued a message including links to torrent files and file-sharing sites that contained what the group describes as its "1st Christmas gift," which is the Outlook mailbox for Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman and CEO Michael Lynton. According to various press reports, 32,000 e-mails to and from Lynton have been released, dating from 2013 through to Nov. 21, 2014, which was just three days before Sony Pictures suffered the wiper malware attack that reportedly led the company to issue new laptops to numerous employees.
Earlier this week, two former employees filed a lawsuit against Sony, claiming that it had failed to protect their private information. The plaintiffs are seeking class action status.
Since then, another two employees have filed a class action lawsuit against the company, according to the Hollywood Reporter, alleging it failed to implement and maintain reasonable security policies and procedures "appropriate to protect its current and former employees' and associates' personal information."