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Opinion: On Sony, hackers, business decisions, and the Sacramento Bee

This morning, the Sacramento Bee published an Editorial Board opinion entitled “The Sony hacking scandal isn’t funny any more.”

It never was.

And the media has fueled the problem they’re now wringing their collective hands about. Just weeks ago, there was great condemnation about people redistributing naked celebrity photographs – “They’re private and they were stolen!” – and yet, with the attention span of fruit flies, the lure of equally private and equally stolen salacious emails was apparently just too great.

An attack like this only gains traction if the content being released is distributed. All of that reporting has basically been free propaganda distribution for the hackers whose only interest has been to financially harm Sony and all involved in this film. And now there’s no reason to believe it will stop at this film. If harming Sony is the goal – it’s equally easy to threaten their subsequent releases regardless of content.

One of the common comments regarding this story is that Sony caved by pulling “The Interview.” Or that Paramount then caved by disallowing further distribution of “Team America: World Police” – as if either should have taken some kind of heroic stand against tyranny. People who hate corporations being treated like people in political terms are whining about corporations not behaving like courageous people when they’re being threatened with financial harm. These haven’t been decisions about artistic expression or patriotism, these have been prudent business decisions. And Sony pulled distribution when it became clear that there was essentially no distribution available to them anyway – the theater chains made it clear that they wouldn’t show the film. And why would they?

This leads to people talking about online distribution as if that doesn’t also require some level of hosting. If you were in the online server/hosting business and you had seen the level of sophistication in these attacks, that experts have said would have defeated 90% of corporate security measures, would you want that content being distributed from your facility?

It’s relatively easy for a celebrity theater owner to take the stand of saying “I’ll screen it,” especially as it wouldn’t ever happen and much of the risk isn’t theirs to carry. Unless of course they want to buy all rights to the film, buy all the property with a half mile of their theater, and offer to work box office, candy, and projection themselves for anybody wishing to risk attendance.

Is it likely that anybody would actually physically attack a theater? No, probably not. But that’s not the point. The point is that some people will stay away. And in a world of multiplex theaters, that means multiple films get hurt because the threat extends beyond the single film. Which in turn would lead to a feeding frenzy of lawsuits.

We already have Sony employees suing Sony for not protecting their personal data, despite experts saying how hard that would have been. You’d have theater employees staying home out of fear and then suing for wrongful termination. You’d have every other distribution company and studio suing Sony (or Paramount) for even the slightest perceived poor performance of other films – or just on principle. There have already been major online columns pondering whether other film’s box office has been hurt. Theatre chains would sue because the public would stay away even from theaters not showing the film – or that would be the claim because, after all, it’s always possible that more people would have attended if none of this had happened and that might be all it takes to leverage a settlement from another risk averse company. And you’d have bruised theatergoers suing everybody in sight after being hurt in a stampede when some bozo lets off a cherry bomb in a theater – which is far more likely.

These are all business decisions by corporations whose purposes are to maximize profits when possible and minimize losses when not. They aren’t heroes responsible for protecting our perceived freedom of speech, which isn’t even the issue here. They’re executives protecting market valuations and avoiding mismanagement lawsuits by stockholders. And every published story about somebody insulting somebody else in their private email accounts has made the situation worse. The media caved to the hackers on this far more than Sony did.

Tony Sheppard is a regular film columnist for Sacramento Press. This column is his opinion and should not be interpreted as the opinion of Sacramento Press. (This disclosure statement also written by Tony Sheppard!)

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About the author

Tony Sheppard

Tony Sheppard

Tony is a Professor at Sacramento State, Co-Director of the Sacramento Film & Music Festival and a long-time writer, primarily on topics related to film and the film industry. He is an active supporter of the local arts community, an amateur photographer, and has an interest in architecture and urban planning topics. He is currently designing a 595 sq.ft. house on a very small infill lot in Sacramento.

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