Sony Pictures hack: Ex-employees to be paid up to $8m in damages

Sony agrees pay-outs for employees whose detailed were leaked by hackers

Unexpected success

Sony Pictures' decision to release its anti-North Korea comedy The Interview, despite threats of terrorist attacks against cinemas that show it, has netted the firm millions of dollars in box office takings.

During the film's first four days of release, it made $2.8 million (1.83 million) at the box office after being shown at 331 cinemas in the US, and then a further $1.1 million (0.72 million) the following weekend across 581 outlets. 

The controversial film has also been hailed as Sony's biggest-selling online film of all time, after making the firm 9.6 million in rentals and downloads.  

Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution at Sony, said the company is happy with how the film has performed.

"We are very pleased with how it is doing both theatrically where we are seeing numerous sell-outs across the country, and online where it remains at the top of many charts," said Bruer. 

The movie studio had previously yanked the movie, which was due for release on Christmas Day, from its December release schedule and cancelled all promotional activities associated with it because of the aforementioned threats.

However, the move resulted in a backlash against the company, with many accusing it of censorship, resulting in it reversing the decision shortly after.

US President Barack Obama welcomed the U-turn after previously criticising the film studio for pulling the Seth Rogen movie, a decision made following hackers threatening a 9/11'-style attack against theatres screening it.

Commenting on Sony's about-turn, Obama's spokesman, Eric Schultz, said: "The decision made by Sony and participating theatres allows people to make their own choices about the film, and we welcome that outcome."

It is expected to play at around 200 US cinemas on its original North American release date of Christmas Day, tomorrow, though several cinema chains have already opted to pull planned screenings.

Hackers calling themselves the Guardians of Peace (GOP) had written to Sony Pictures saying that "the world will be full of fear" the day the film was due to be released.

"Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time," the hackers wrote.

"If your house is nearby, you'd better leave," they added. "Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment."

North Korea internet outage

The news follows North Korea's internet suffering its worst outage in years, with security experts saying the country's web was "totally down".

Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at web performance firm Dyn, told the North Korea tech blog: "I wouldn't be surprised if they are absorbing some sort of attack presently.

"I haven't seen such a steady beat of routing instability and outages before. Usually there are isolated blips, not continuous connectivity problems.

"North Korea is totally down."

The US declined to comment on speculation is was behind the outage as part of Obama's vow to implement a "proportional" response against the hackers' attack on Sony, which saw terabytes of data including films, emails and employee details leaked late last month.

US State Department spokesman Marie Harf said: "As we implement our responses, some will be seen, some may not be seen."

Twitter

Sony Pictures threatened Twitter with legal action on December 22, if the social network does not stop users from spreading information leaked during the hack, which the FBI believes came from North Korea.

The film studio sent a letter yesterday to Twitter's legal department urging it to suspend the accounts of users, such as @BikiniRobotArmy, who has tweeted screenshots of Sony emails stolen by hackers calling themselves the Guardians of Peace (GOP).

The letter is now up on Motherboard, and Sony Pictures' lawyer, David Boies, wrote: "If Twitter does not comply with this request, and the Stolen Information continues to bedisseminated by Twitter in any manner, SPE will have no choice but to hold Twitter responsiblefor any damage or loss arising from such use or dissemination."

That includes loss of intellectual property and trade secrets, added Boies, and he demanded Twitter complies with any future requests to block account holders guilty of sharing data stolen in the November hack, which the FBI suspects came from North Korea, though the country denies it.

FBI

A statement from America's National Security Council said the FBI was leading an investigation into the threats, adding: "We know that criminals and foreign countries regularly seek to gain access to government and private sector networks - both in the United States and elsewhere.

"We take very seriously any attempt to threaten or limit artists' freedom of speech or of expression."

The warnings come after Sony previously said it would not object to cinemas pulling the film, and US chain Carmike Cinemas has confirmed it will not play the movie at any of its 278 theatres.

Sony Entertainment's chief executive Michael Lynton has emailed staff warning them to "stay vigilant".

The Guardians of Peace cyber criminals have also released a new batch of Sony data, calling it a "Christmas gift" after initially stealing 10 terabytes of data including feature films and embarrassing emails between executives on November 24.

The Sony Pictures hackers allegedly contacted the heads of the company on Monday, December 8, demanding they cancel the forthcoming release of controversial comedy film The Interview.

North Korea had already complained to the United Nations about the film, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, and called for its release to be blocked on the grounds it constitutes the "undisguised sponsoring of terrorism."

Studio executives were sent a message entitled "Their Privacy", which is thought to have been sent by the hacking group.

In it, they claim Sony Pictures has refused to give into some unspecified demands to date, before calling for the firm to cancel the release of The Interview.

"We have already given our clear demand to the management team of Sony, however, they have refused to accept," the message states.

"Do carry out our demand if you want to escape us.

"And stop immediately showing the movie of terrorism which can break the regional peace and cause the war (sic)."

In the meantime, a data dump has been leaked online by the hackers, containing details of the aliases used by celebrities when they check into hotels and make restaurant bookings.

It also contains scripts for forthcoming movies, reports Fusion, along with the contact numbers for Hollywood stars including Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Julia Roberts.

The attack on the company's systems last month has already resulted in the premature release of several major motion pictures and the online publication of celebrity social security numbers, payment details and other personal information.

North Korea has been cited as the source of the attack, after country officials initially refused to deny its involvement, with the movie studio's link to The Interview being cited as a motive.

Over the weekend, the country's representatives told state media it was not behind the attack, before describing it as a "righteous deed".

However, it did concede the hack may have been the handiwork of the country's "supporters and sympathisers".

"What we clearly know is the Sony Pictures is the very one which was going to produce a film abetting a terrorist act while hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of North Korea," the spokesperson for the National Defense Commission of North Korea said.

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