Politico: Sony denies blame for ‘The Interview’ cancellation

By Dave Perera | Politico

Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton is pushing back hard against the widespread view that his company appeased the North Korean dictatorship by canceling a comedy film that lampooned its hereditary leader.

“We have not caved, we have not given in, we have persevered and we have not backed down. We have always had every desire to have the American public see this movie,” Lynton insisted during an interview with CNN.

President Barack Obama said this afternoon that the Hollywood studio made a mistake by pulling the movie “The Interview” from distribution. Self-censorship out of fear is “not who we are, that’s not what America is about,” Obama said during a year-end press conference.

The FBI says it has technical evidence linking North Korea to the Nov. 24 hack that paralyzed the studio and resulted in a cavalcade of stolen data posted online. The movie, a comedy, depicts North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un as a buffoon and shows his violent death.

Lynton retorted that Obama and others are mistaken in assigning Sony blame for the movie’s demise.

Rather, it’s the theater exhibitors who are to blame, Lynton said. “We do not own movie theaters. We cannot determine whether or not a movie will be played in movie theaters.” However, theater chains didn’t begin announcing cancellations of the “The Interview” until Sony told theater chains Tuesday they had the option of not showing the film.

A Hollywood exhibition industry executive, speaking on condition of background, called Lynton’s statement inaccurate. “The decision was in their hands, not every theater had decided not to play it,” he said. After the Sony hackers made a terrorist threat against theaters that would show the film — which federal officials quickly said wasn’t credible — some major exhibitors suggested Sony do a limited release to test public reaction, the executive said. “They chose not to do so,” he added.

“Sony’s trying to have it both ways,” said Brent Lang, a reporter for Variety. Contracts for distribution with major theater chains come loaded with penalty clauses. “Nobody wants to look like they’re canceling the film,” Lang said.

Lynton also said the studio is considering releasing the movie through a video on demand service. However, no video on demand or major e-commerce site “has stepped forward and said they are willing to distribute this movie for us,” he said.

An emailed statement from Sony later said that the studio has been “actively surveying alternatives to enable us to release the movie on a different platform. It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so.”

A missive from the Sony hackers warned Sony against allowing the Seth Rogen and James Franco comedy to leak online. An email sent to Sony executives said that “we want you never let the movie released, distributed or leaked in any form of, for instance, DVD or piracy,” according to CNN.

Robert Steele, president of RightsCorp, a Los Angeles company that monitors file sharing sites for copyrighted material, said “The Interview” has yet to be illegally available. There are sites purporting to have the movie, but they’re fake, Steele said. “The ones that say they have it are trying to get malware onto your computer,” he said.

Lynton’s full interview will air during CNN’s "Anderson Cooper 360" tonight at 8 p.m. EST.

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