The North Korea-sponsored hackers that humbled Sony ended up looking brilliant in a devious, malevolent way. I’m sure they were treated to a hero’s reward (geek version) in Pyongyang or wherever in the world they’re based.

But thinking about this sorry episode, I realized that Sony’s key weakness—the Achilles heel that was crucial to these hackers’ success—wasn’t in the company’s computer security systems, and wasn’t in the private, sensitive information behind their porous firewalls.

Sure, the hackers ferreted out and then dumped (on a western media that was all too willing to play along) a huge amount of embarrassing data. But in the end, so what about all that? Aaron Sorkin is sleeping with Molly whatsername? Angelie Jolie is “marginally talented” and a “spoiled brat”? Kevin Hart is a “whore”? It’s titillating; it’s an annoyance to the stars and the execs—poor Amy Pascal even had to bow and scrape and submit to a ritual shakedown by Al Sharpton, owing to the revelation of a few racially tinged emails. But none of that would have done much damage to the Sony bottom line. In fact, the hacker attack ended up bestowing a hell of a lot of free publicity on a mediocre movie that people otherwise would have stayed away from in droves.

So what was it that really caused the effective* termination of that movie? It was Sony’s distributors’ fear of liability exposure, following the threats from the hackers to perpetrate a 9/11-type event.

Those threats might have been just an afterthought, and almost certainly had bupkis to back them up—they were most likely only words typed on a keyboard by some pimply Korean kid, in a windowless room reeking of kimchee farts.

But consider the scenario they create, in the mind of the CEO of a chain of cinemas. Someone has threatened, in effect, to bomb screenings of that particular film. Thus, if anything does happen, the CEO’s corporation—in the bleeding-heart tort system of modern America—will be sued to extinction for negligence. Some plaintiff’s attorney will stand up in front of a suggestible jury and scream: The company management knew the cinema would be bombed! But they showed the movie anyway! They didn’t care about human lives!

plaintiff lawyer

For that CEO it would be an easy, straightforward decision not to show the movie—never mind what grandstanding politicians like Obama have to say on the matter.

I don’t think it has dawned on people yet that this coercive tactic doesn’t require computer hacking at all, and can be used against the film industry and probably many other industries by virtually anyone who (a) can make even halfway credible threats via the western media, and (b) effectively stands outside the reach of western law enforcement.

Oh, and, speaking of which . . .

Pascal agreed to let Sharpton have a say in how Sony makes motion pictures, in an effort to combat what he called “inflexible and immovable racial exclusion in Hollywood.”

“We have agreed to having a working group deal with the racial bias and lack of diversity in Hollywood,” said Sharpton.

He said Sony would work closely with his National Action Network, ​the ​National Urban League, ​the ​NAACP and the Black Women’s Round Table to “see if we can come up with an immediate plan to deal with it.”

The meeting, held behind closed doors at the Greenwich Hotel, also included National Urban League president Marc Morial.

“Our interest is seeing to it that Sony is on the right side of changing Hollywood,” Morial said. [NY Post]

*Since I wrote the original draft of this post, some small cinema chains (with relatively little to lose) have agreed to screen “The Interview,” but as the NYT pointed out, such a small run would be “largely symbolic in financial terms,” i.e., the film will essentially end up as a costly write-off.

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