In a clear victory for North Korea, Sony has responded to terrorist threats by officially cancelling the December 25 release of “The Interview,” a comedy featuring Seth Rogen.
The decision is a reminder that, while the tech world likes to natter about how U.S. copyright laws can lead to censorship, the biggest threat to free expression these days is coming from beyond America’s borders.
The Sony announcement comes after major cinema chains like AMC, Cineplex and Cinemark on Wednesday likewise announced they would not screen the movie.
The news comes after a hacker group, which has already gained notoriety by publishing Sony’s internal documents, issued a new threat warning cinemas of 9/11-style terror attacks if they screened the movie.
The hacking attacks and the threats are widely believed to emanate from overseas cyber soldiers who object to the movie’s plot, which centers on bumbling Americans who are recruited to kill North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un. On Wednesday night, the U.S. government confirmed that North Korea, which had previously described the hacking episode as a “righteous deed,” is behind the affair.
The decision by Sony and the movie houses comes even after the Department of Homeland reportedly stated that there is no evidence that a credible threat related to the movie houses exists.
As the Wall Street Journal reported, however, Sony and the movie theaters may be less concerned about an attack than they are about the prospect of terrorist threats keeping people away from multiplexes and depressing ticket sales during the holidays.
Whatever the rationale, the outcome is appalling since it sets a precedent for other repressive regimes to induce self-censorship in democratic countries simply by making threats.
Indeed, this has already occurred with YouTube and a 14-minute video called “Innocence of Muslims,” which a California judge ordered to be removed following overseas outrage, stoked by fanatical clerics, that the video was offensive.
These events are a sobering reality check that Hollywood’s harebrained efforts at censorship via copyright laws are child’s play compared to the calls for censorship through threats of mass murder by the likes of North Korea. The most frightening thing of all is that such tactics appear to be working.
This story was updated at 5:20pm ET to note Sony’s formal announcement.