Sony demands news organizations delete leaked documents

Sony Pictures Entertainment may be the victim of a major cyberattack on its network, but now it’s going on the offensive. 

Its defenders in Hollywood, like Judd Apatow and Aaron Sorkin, claim that the publication of thousands of documents stolen by hackers amounts to a massive privacy violation. Sony, however, isn’t stopping at impassioned pleas for journalists to cease and desist. Instead, it’s issuing legal threats.

David Boies, an outside lawyer working for Sony in the ongoing leak debacle, told news organizations that Sony “does not consent to your possession, review, copying, dissemination, publication, uploading, downloading or making any use” of the terabytes of stolen documents leaked by a group called the Guardians of Peace.

In the letter to journalists, Boies wrote that Sony stood ready to “hold you responsible for any damage or loss arising from such use or dissemination by you.”

News organizations do not typically react well to legal threats intended to stifle the publication of materials they deem relevant to the public interest. Nathaniel Mott of Pando Daily characterized the letter as Sony “bullying journalists,” while The Intercept’s Micah Lee wrote that the law was clearly on journalists’ side, even if the ethics may not be.

“Sony should realize that journalists are completely within their legal rights to report on documents that are illegally obtained,” Lee wrote, “as long as the journalists themselves don’t break laws to obtain them.”

The Verge’s Emily Yoshida defended her website’s reporting on Sony’s internal operations, writing, “It’s not a matter of whether Sony now ‘deserves’ to be cyberterrorized or not, but rather whether the value of what we have learned outweighs how we learned it.”

The Verge’s Silicon Valley editor Casey Newton continued to push back on criticisms of the site’s reporting by pointing to Sorkin’s critical New York Times op-ed.

One of the stories that emerged from the vast leak concerned Sony’s involvement in an industry-wide campaign against search giant Google, which Sony and the other studios saw as an accomplice to costly movie piracy. The plan mirrored the troubling anti-piracy bill known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which failed in the Senate after a massive grassroots campaign spearheaded by Google and other tech companies.

Internet rights group Fight For The Future (FFTF) saw the Boies letter as a direct result of reporting on the secret anti-Google plan. The group pushed back on Sony’s threatening letter on a petition website.

“Just a few days after the media reported that that the MPAA and forces in Hollywood were planning the next SOPA, Sony Pictures sent threatening letters to media outlets demanding that they stop reporting on the corporate hack and delete any ‘stolen information’ in their possession,” FFTF told its audience. “These abusive (and potentially illegal) letters are intended to censor the story.”

Photo via David Goehring/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed 

Eric Geller

Eric Geller

Eric Geller is a politics reporter who focuses on cybersecurity, surveillance, encryption, and privacy. A former staff writer at the Daily Dot, Geller joined Politico in June 2016, where he's focused on policymaking at the White House, the Justice Department, the State Department, and the Commerce Department.