https://plus.google.com/.../posts/ETC32YqinJN20 hours ago - Hackers get Sony's Royal Ass Morning Mix Sony Pictures warns news organizations to destroy 'stolen' e-mails, documents By Terrence McCoy and Fred Barbash ...
Sony Pictures warns news organizations to destroy ‘stolen’ e-mails, documents
The materials, particularly e-mails, provided an extraordinary glimpse inside one of the world’s best-known corporations. The initial stories based on the materials went viral and absorbed days of coverage last week, illuminating the high-powered dealings, petty squabbling and ego that can define Hollywood.
The company threatened legal action against news organizations that failed to heed its request, a strategy some legal scholars say would have a rough time passing muster under the First Amendment, which protects freedom of the press. Though no one has accused any news organization of participating in the theft, the letter appears to be a gambit to stop news outlets from reporting the documents.
Sony’s action came just as the hackers, who call themselves the “Guardians of Peace” reportedly threatened another dump of stolen data. The hackers have demanded the company withdraw an upcoming comedy based on a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
It said the studio “does not consent to your possession, review, copying, dissemination, publication, uploading, downloading, or making any use of the stolen information.”
“If you do not comply with this request, and the stolen information is used or disseminated by you in any manner,” Boies wrote, “Sony Pictures Entertainment will have no choice but to hold you responsible for any damage or loss arising from such use or dissemination by you.” It said Sony was at risk of “loss of value of intellectual property and trade secrets” as a result of the media’s actions. (Among the stolen items reportedly is the screenplay for an upcoming James Bond movie, “Spectre.”)
Among those mentioned in the e-mails was Aaron Sorkin, who blasted news organizations this morning in a commentary in the New York Times. “I’m not a disinterested third party,” he wrote. “Much of the squabbling” featured in stolen emails “was about a movie that’s about to begin shooting, ‘Steve Jobs,’ for which I wrote the screenplay.”
But, “as a screenwriter in Hollywood who’s only two generations removed from probably being blacklisted, I’m not crazy about Americans calling other Americans un-American, so let’s just say that every news outlet that did the bidding of the Guardians of the Peace is morally treasonous and spectacularly dishonorable.”
Here’s his post on this subject.
George Freeman, a former attorney for the New York Times who now runs the Media Law Resource Center, said Sony’s demands struck him as “a stretch.” He said newspapers and other publications have reported leaked corporate and government documents “scores of times,” and this instance appears similar to those.
“I can’t think of any instance where the innocent beneficiary of leaks would get restrained from publishing,” Freeman said, referencing the news outlets’ decisions to publish the Pentagon Papers. “If anything, there would be less a problem for media in printing corporate documents like these than printing classified documents, which the government has claimed can violate the Espionage Act.”
Investigators have identified seven proxy servers around the world the hackers used to route their attack, one of which was based at a hotel in Thailand. The others were in Poland, Italy, Cyprus, Bolivia, Singapore and the United States, said a person familiar with the investigation who spoke with The Post last week on the condition of anonymity because the probe remained incomplete.
The FBI, which has been investigating the incident, has not yet publicly named a culprit.
While most of the publicity from the leaks focused on embarrassing e-mail exchanges between executives and snarky comments about stars such as Jolie, Boies’s letter focused on a different class of information, including communications between lawyer and client, private financial data, intellectual property and “business secrets.”
It noted that “the perpetrators of the theft have threatened” Sony “for the stated purpose of materially harming” the company unless it withdraws the motion picture from distribution.
Why Sony probably can’t stop the media from publishing stories from the hack
News organizations have long used material, stolen by others, when they deem it newsworthy, whether it’s from the files of the government or private companies and individuals. Lots of people have tried to stop them. Rarely have they succeeded.
The latest example is Sony Pictures Entertainment. Its lawyer sent a letter to media organizations on Sunday warning them not to use a trove of corporate data dumped by hackers who infiltrated the company’s corporate servers last month. And it wasn’t just any lawyer. The sender of the “Dear General Counsel” letter was celebrated litigator David Boies.
According to legal experts, probably not. Unless the publications themselves stole the documents, the courts have blanketed them with broad First Amendment protections that are hard to overcome. So if Sony doesn’t have much of a legal leg to stand on, what’s the point of sending threatening letters to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Gawker and other media outlets?
Perhaps to scare them. Nobody relishes the prospect of costly legal battle. Media organizations might postpone publication of stories about the hack while they consult their lawyers, or exercise more caution and discretion in what they publish, weighing the real news value as opposed to the click quotient. The letter also plays to some news organizations’ ethical sensibilities. Some already feel squeamish about using stolen material, though it hasn’t stopped them.
In the past week, the media have published hundreds of stories about the personal e-mails and corporate documents, reporting on Sony executive salaries, business dealings and e-mail exchanges in which executives took shots at President Obama and Angelina Jolie, among others. It’s one of the largest document dumps ever to hit a major corporation.
The letter sent by Boies said the stolen information includes material protected by attorney-client privilege, trade secrets and private information otherwise legally protected.
Sony “does not consent to your possession, review, copying, dissemination, publication, uploading, downloading, or making any use of the Stolen Information,” the letter said. It warned Sony would have “no choice but to hold you responsible from any damage or loss resulting from such use or dissemination by you.”
That what the Supreme Court ruled in Bartnicki v. Vopper, a 2001 case about a radio host who played a tape of an illegally recorded conversation left in his mailbox. On the tape, union leaders in the middle of a contract dispute with the school board discussed taking violent action if their demands weren’t met. The union leaders sued, saying the radio host violated federal and state wiretapping laws that prohibit dissemination of stolen information.
The court sided with the media. The case turned on two things: the fact the radio host didn’t intercept the conversation himself and claimed not to know it was illegally recorded, and the fact that conversation was newsworthy. A “stranger’s illegal conduct does not suffice to remove the First Amendment shield from speech about a matter of public concern,” Chief Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority.
That case doesn’t exactly fit the facts of the Sony hack. For one thing, media outlets know the information was stolen.
But in another case from 1969, reporters did know that photocopied documents given to them by former employees of Sen. Thomas Dodd (D-Conn.) were taken without permission. Dodd sued investigative reporters Jack Anderson and Drew Pearson. The D.C. Circuit Court in Pearson v. Dodd said giving photocopies to reporters didn’t deprive Dodd of a property right to the documents, and the reporters didn’t intrude on Dodd’s privacy by publishing information of public concern that was stolen by someone else.
Sony might argue the stolen information isn’t newsworthy for First Amendment purposes — for example, an e-mail from movie producer Scott Rudin calling Jolie a “minimally talented spoiled brat.” The definition of what’s newsworthy isn’t clear, but is generally forgiving to publishers, Volokh told The Post in a phone interview. Even seemingly petty details could be deemed valuable to public discussion. “Personal opinions about Angelina Jolie might be newsworthy because they reflect on the behavior of two really important business actors,” Volokh said.
But there are limits to what newspapers can do in the name of press freedom. Volokh said there are two types of information that the media could get in trouble for publishing.
The first is personal information about a particular individual — details about an extramarital affair or the medical records of a low-level employee whose health, unlike that of a U.S. president, isn’t of public concern. Bloomberg published an article last week that reveals information about Sony employees’ private health records without naming names.
But even in such cases, Sony couldn’t sue, Volokh said. Only the person whose private information was made public could.
The media could also get in trouble for publishing copyrighted material. Re/Code reported the stolen data includes five unreleased Sony films. Even e-mails are protected by copyright. Paraphrasing or excerpting an e-mail isn’t likely to infringe on copyright, but publication of the full text might, Volokh said.
On the other hand, a strong letter from a lawyer tends to get the attention of editors and their corporate legal departments. Stories can get slowed down or even vetoed as not worth the risk from a news standpoint. Right now, news organizations appear to be pretty freewheeling with the Sony information, though some journalists already have reservations about publishing stolen material unless it exposes some significant wrongdoing.
“The more Sony Pictures data keeps leaking, the more my moral compass spins like a weather vane in a hurricane,” Variety co-editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein wrote in an op-ed titled “Why Publishing Stolen Sony Data Is Problematic but Necessary.” “It’s getting harder for me to report on the contents of Sony’s leak without wondering whether I’m somehow complicit with these nefarious hackers by relaying the details of seemingly every pilfered terabyte.”
But in today’s social-media environment, the simple fact someone else leaked private material becomes news, whether or not a publication chooses to reproduce it. That’s what happened with the nude photo hack of Hollywood celebrities, during which many outlets publicized the pictures without publishing them even as they condemned them as a grotesque invasion of privacy.
“These [Sony] documents are neither the JLaw nude photos nor are they Snowden’s cache of national security documents,” Anne Helen Petersen wrote for Buzzfeed. “Yet when it comes to future handling of such information, the gray area in which they reside — between public and private, between prurient and illuminating — might not be the exception, but the new normal.”
She sees a function for journalists now. “The new role of journalists, for better or for worse, isn’t as gatekeepers, but interpreters: If they don’t parse it, others without the experience, credentials, or mindfulness toward protecting personal information certainly will.”
Gail Sullivan covers business for the Morning Mix blog.
Source: Washington Post
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