Sony cancels release of movie at the center of security worries

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now: not showing at a theater near you. That's the latest fallout from one of the biggest and most public corporate hackings in history.

    Just a short time ago, Sony Pictures announced it's canceling the Christmas Day release of a movie that's been at the center of all of this, and the subject of security worries.

    Jeffrey Brown tell us more.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    It began as a comedy, a Hollywood comedy called "The Interview," though one with a rather twisted premise.

  • SETH ROGEN, Actor:

    You want us to kill the leader of North Korea?

  • ACTRESS:

    Yes.

  • JAMES FRANCO, Actor:

    What?

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Now the film, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, has sparked a much darker tale of cyber-crime, artistic license, film industry intrigue, geopolitics, and even threats of terrorism.

    Sony Pictures, the studio that made the film, has been the target of a large-scale hack of its computer data, with a group calling itself the Guardians of Peace claiming responsibility for near-daily leaks of internal documents, e-mails, and other information.

    One question, who done it? From the outset, suspicions have fallen on North Korea, which early on made clear its anger that a film that portrays a plot to assassinate its leader, Kim Jong-un, calling it — quote — "an act of war."

    Earlier this month, North Korean state-run TV said the studio got what it deserved.

  • WOMAN (through interpreter):

    This hack attack towards the U.S. film producer Sony Pictures is clearly the righteous act of our sympathizers and supporters who came forward following our appeal. Thus, the misfortune that Sony Pictures experienced can only be seen as a just punishment for its evil doings and unjustified actions.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Former U.S. Envoy to North Korea Jack Pritchard told us the totalitarian regime has both the means and determination to carry this out.

    JACK PRITCHARD, Former U.S. Special Envoy for Negotiations with North Korea: I have been to Kim Il-Sung University. I have seen some of their computer labs. They have got the equipment and they clearly have got the focus and the intention of doing this.

    The North Koreans are capable of holding on to a grudge and playing it out. In this particular case, there's no smoking gun, so they can continue to do what they want.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Still, uncertainty remains. There's also been conjecture about disgruntled employees, past or present.

    In the meantime, the flood of leaked corporate documents has continued.

    Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Fritz:

  • BEN FRITZ, The Wall Street Journal:

    These e-mails are an amazing insight into how a major film studio works, because you just have someone's pure inbox, and sent mailbox, I should say, with tens of thousands of messages. It's damaging in all sorts of ways, from the embarrassing, all the way up to the actually proprietary information that now their competitors have on the way they do business.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Among the sensitive material released, private correspondences among Sony executives, including discussions on whether and how to alter the film's content, inside information on salaries, some showing wide disparities in the pay of men and women, scripts and even high-quality copies of movies yet to be released, and old-fashioned gossip, replete with disparaging remarks about stars such as Angelina Jolie and racially tinged comments about President Obama's taste in movies.

    All in all, says Ben Fritz, it's badly shaken the company and the industry as a whole.

  • BEN FRITZ:

    Well, for Sony Pictures, this has been really damaging. It's made it difficult for the company just to engage in its day-to-day work. All the other studios in Hollywood are frightened that they could be next. They're trying to beef up their security and be more careful about the information that they share in e-mails and in documents on their computers.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Yesterday, the company got hit with a lawsuit from two former employees for not protecting Social Security numbers, salary details and other personal records.

    Sony has fought back in one way, hiring high-profile lawyer David Boies, who, in a letter on Sunday, warned news organizations not to publish details from the leaked files, as they contain — quote — "stolen information."

    In a Sunday New York Times op-ed, prominent screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, whose movies and name came up in the documents, also criticized the media, writing, "Every news outlet that did the bidding of the Guardians of Peace is morally treasonous and spectacularly dishonorable."

    But the last 48 hours have taken on a new urgency, and even a darker threat for movie theaters this holiday season, as the Guardians of Peace issued a new message, saying people who plan to see the movie — quote — "seek fun in terror, and should be doomed to a bitter fate." The message also included a reference to September 11.

    The Department of Homeland Security said it had not yet seen credible intelligence of an active plot, but is investigating the threat.

    Last night, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck had this to say:

  • CHARLIE BECK, Los Angeles, California, Police Chief:

    Well, we take those threats very seriously. And we will take extra precautions during the holidays at theaters. We're very aware of the controversy surrounding Sony studios, so we will take that into account.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Moviegoers in Los Angeles had mixed responses.

  • REM SCOVELL:

    I don't even know why they made it. Like, it just seems like a bunch of comedians trying to be creative. And I definitely won't go see it, though. Now that they say there's some sort of danger involved, I'm definitely not seeing it.

  • TARIQ COLLINS:

    The way homeland security is set up, it's virtually impossible. And, no, I'm not scared. Why would I be scared?

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    But, today, events spiraled ever further, and late this afternoon, Sony announced it was canceling the release of the film, which had been scheduled for Christmas Day.

    That came after the nation's largest theater chains had said they wouldn't play the movie pending results of law enforcement investigations. As late as Monday, Seth Rogen, who also co-directed "The Interview," was defending his film like this on ABC's "Good Morning America."

  • SETH ROGEN:

    We just wanted to make a really funny, entertaining movie. And the movie itself is very silly, and it wasn't meant to be controversial in any way. It was really just meant to be entertaining.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    A silly movie, perhaps, but one that has brought an unprecedented firestorm to Hollywood and beyond.

    I'm Jeffrey Brown for the "PBS NewsHour."

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And late-breaking news tonight: There are reports that the U.S. government is confirming that North Korea is indeed behind the hacking at Sony.

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