December 24, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
Let’s not pretend for a moment that Sony’s decision to pull “The Interview” out of all cinemas in the world, in addition to any chance of it being released on demand either is about sensitivity to the sensitivities of the North Koreans. It is about litigation, and the fear of it, and it’s about money. The whole episode can be best summed up by the tweet I saw which said that there is a new word for pusillanimous #Sony.
That in one stroke they have put a massive chill on free speech in the country that is supposed to lead the world in it, and that their actions were then followed by Paramount, who stopped showing “Team America: World Police” and production of Steve Carell’s “Pyongyang” at the same time makes me even more sure that all this is more about litigation than care about the hurt feelings of Kim Jong Un.
What do I mean by litigation? It is simple. The cyberhackers who had already shown their ability to hack into Sony’s computer systems and released some extremely damaging emails in addition to payroll details. Having shown their powers and ability, they were threatening a terrorist episode “like 9/11” should any cinema show “The Interview”. Sony argue that they were pulling the opening of the film because the cinemas were refusing to show it. But ultimately, what happened was a domino-effect of legal fears.
How? If a cinema had shown the movie and a terrorist incident had happened there, there would have been a massive inquest as to why they had shown the film, followed by a massive compensation bill. The movie theatres may have asked Sony to indemnify them against that, and Sony may have asked the US government to indemnify them against that.
Money also talks when we think about this: You are a cinema-goer with the choice of going to see any movie at a cinema and one is showing “The Interview” and the other isn’t. Which one would you go to? This was the point the movie theatres say they made to Sony. Until more was known about the source of the threats, they were suggesting a “postponement” of the movie – not, as Sony at first said they had done, a “cancelling” of it.
The North Koreans have reacted in a typically laughable way – they have insisted they are nothing to do with the hacking threats. They have said that they want to do a joint investigation of the hacking with the US government, then threatened ‘consequences’ if the USA didn’t agree to do it.
If that wasn’t enough, the North Koreans said that the US Government must have had something to do with the making of “The Interview”. That was no surprise, because a country without a free press or free film making industry – a country where the only films made are propaganda films for the government – would never understand that it possible for free speech and free film-making to happen.
It is the same attitude that meant so many countries who were voting for the 2018 World Cup thought that the Sunday Times’ corruption investigation was organised by the UK government and was a direct criticism from that government – free press doesn’t exist in many countries we are dealing with.
But we should go back to the real problem here. A threat of terrorism has caused enough terror that a company seems prepared to lose millions of pounds on a film. If you let terrorists win, they will come back and do the same again. That’s what happened, and we are all losing out.