Sony Pictures Entertainment have finally issued a statement to numerous media outlets, encouraging them to destroy any material obtained as a result of a cyber attack on the company earlier this month.
As hackers apparently opposed to the release of Seth Rogen's comedy The Interview released their eighth batch of documents and information today, a lawyer for Sony told The New York Times, Variety and others that "SPE does not consent to your possession, review, copying, dissemination, publication, uploading, downloading or making any use of the stolen information."
The damage is likely already done. In the past week, Sony's seeming bafflement at how to handle their Spider-Man franchise has become a subject of ridicule while fanboy hopes that Sony might either partner with Marvel for future films or sell the character back to them outright have been stoked by a series of e-mails revealing that there have been such talks. Gossipy e-mails in which top studio brass took potshots at Hollywood stars, filmmakers they've worked with and U.S. President Barack Obama have circulated, forcing co-Chairman Amy Pascal and veteran producer Scott Rudin to apologize for racially-insensitive remarks made about Obama and revealing a gender pay gap among A-list stars in Sony's employ.
In the last couple of days, even other studios have found themselves impacted as information about Warner Bros.' Aquaman and Disney's Avengers: Infinity War and Star Wars films have emerged from the documents as well. In those cases, it's generally second- or third-hand information being traded among executives who hope to work with somebody, only to have another party respond that the filmmaker or actor in question is tied up with another studio's project, which in some cases haven't yet been announced or confirmed.
Suspicion fell on North Korea fairly quickly, given the country's remarks about The Interview in the past and the hack's proximity to the film's release. Sony sources had at one point dismissed that publicly, but the remarks from former Al Gore attorney David Boies clearly implies that the source of the hack is tied to the controversy.
The cyber attacks are part of "an on-going campaign explicitly seeking to prevent SPE from distributing a motion picture," he wrote.
Boies made no specific threats against members of the media who do not comply with his demand to refuse to use the material in their coverage. Legal precedent has been established that news organizations utilizing illegally-obtained materials for a story are difficult to prosecute. In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court's Bartnicki vs. Vopper decision established at a radio station couldn't be held liable for using illegally-recorded conversations in a news report as the station didn't do the actual recording. More recently, courts refused to penalize Gawker for making a first-draft script to Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight available online after it was leaked by someone in the filmmaker's inner circle. Still, Sony could theoretically try to minimize the damage by refusing to work with news outlets who have violated their privacy in the future.
Along with the information released in e-mails, the Sony hack has resulted screeners of a number of award-nominated films being released online -- some in advance of the fims' actual theatrical releases -- and scripts for some upcoming films circulating as well. Prior to Boies' note, Sony had been much more defensive of the intellectual property than the invasion of privacy.
ComicBook.com has reported on some Sony e-mails and company data based on reports from other news organizations and on statements from Sony executives.