As an event, it’s unprecedented: a cyberattack has rocked a major corporation in the most public of ways, and is now dictating the release of a major motion picture in the United States. And yet the studio still has one card tucked in its back pocket.
Sony should release The Interview online. Right now.
Does it smack of censorship and impinging of free speech? Absolutely — though what it feels like most is the conservative choice. Hollywood loves a safe bet, and Sony making the passive move to let theaters opt out at their leisure is as safe as it gets, no matter what creative voices get stifled. Of course, the film industry has always been more about business than it has been about creative expression anyway, and in that sense The Interview can simply be framed as fallout from a bad business decision: Sony Pictures decided to make a movie about killing a real-world dictator, and is suffering immeasurably as a result.
Would it open Sony up to having additional emails leaked? Would it open up content providers to potentially adding their names to the hackers' hitlist? Potentially, and we certainly don’t know what other personal threats have been made directly to the heads of Sony Pictures. But anyone expecting the leaks to stop at this point hasn’t been paying attention, and as long as the movie is kept under wraps there’s that dangling, implied threat: don’t show it or else. Releasing the movie online would allow the company to take a principled stand against its attackers and shatter that tension.
This is a scenario unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, and Sony Pictures is at a unique point in history. As theater chain stocks dipped Tuesday, the hacks began to look more like true economic terrorism — impacting an entire industry, not just a lone company. TV shows and movies will undoubtedly stay away from portraying North Korea in a negative light moving forward, the chilling effect that this kind of strong-arming leads to. And what happens between now and Christmas Day, when the film is (still) scheduled for release, will establish a precedent that sets the tone for years to come.
The hackers, whomever they may be, have used the internet to attack Sony Pictures. They’ve used it to intimidate Sony Pictures. Now Sony can use that same internet to fight back and spread The Interview across the world.
Put it online.