Sony Pictures “made a mistake” when it decided to cancel the release of a movie under threats from hackers in North Korea, President Obama said in his year-end press conference Friday.
The movie, “The Interview,” apparently angered the oppressive North Korean regime because it depicts the assassination of the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un. Hackers, identified by the FBI on Friday as North Korean, broke into Sony’s computer systems and stole massive amounts of information, including entire copies of unreleased films. The hackers released a huge amount of internal Sony email correspondence, including embarrassing internal discussions and other sensitive material.
At his press conference, Obama argued against the decision, suggesting that it’s not the kind of precedent media companies want to set.
“We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” the president said. “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. Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.”
The president seemed to downplay the company’s legal concerns about potential liability if the hackers actually acted on their threats.
“Again, I’m sympathetic that Sony is a private company and is worried about liabilities and this and that and the other. I wish that they had spoken to me first. I would have told them ‘Do not get into a pattern in which you are intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.’”
Obama said that the reality of cyber attacks is something that will be a fact of life for most large companies in the future. “Occasionally there are going to be breaches like this,” he said. “They are going to be costly, they are going to be serious.”
However, he added, invoking the most recent terrorist attack on American soil, terrorist threats can’t be allowed to shut down film releases, “any more than Boston didn’t run its marathon this year because of the possibility that somebody might try to cause harm.”
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