Sony tells media to hide hacking news, but threats ring hollow

As Sony’s misery grows over a massive hacking incident, the studio is lashing out in a desperate way: it is warning news agencies to destroy any leaks they receive, or else Sony will hold them responsible for any damages.

The letter, which is signed by super lawyer David Boies, was sent to various outlets, including the New York Times, the Hollywood Reporter and security blogger Brian Krebs:

It instructs recipients to notify Sony if they receive information related to the hacking and to confirm that “destruction has been completed.” Or what? Here’s the threat:

If you do not comply with this request, and if the Stolen Information is used or disseminated by you in any manner, [Sony] will have no choice but to hold you responsible for any damage or loss … including … any loss of value of intellectual property and trade secrets.

Legal scholars, however, give little credence to Sony’s threat, pointing to a Supreme Court case from 2001 that clearly shields the news outlets:

The case in question involves a radio DJ who broadcast parts of a recording that had been obtained in an illegal fashion. As the court noted, the First Amendment protects those who publish or describe such information (provided they did not have a role in obtaining it).

As a lawyer who has pled famous constitutional cases before the Supreme Court, Boies clearly knows the threats are empty. So why is he making them? It’s hard to know for sure, but the likely explanation is that Sony is desperate for somebody to do something to respond to the embarrassing series of hacks, which have disclosed everything from racist emails about President Obama to sensitive financial figures from the studio. The hackers, who want to stop the release of an impending Seth Rogen film that mocks North Korea, have also promised a “Christmas surprise.”

Sony’s discomfort is clearly understandable. But while the “stolen” (Sony’s word) information raises ethical issues, like those described by Aaron Sorkin, the studio doesn’t have appear to have a legal leg to stand on.

Facebook threats and the Supreme Court: a guide to today’s case

The Supreme Court on Monday will hear the appeal of a man who went to prison for posting violent rants on Facebook. The case will shape the future of what people can and can’t say online, and is being closely watched by the tech industry, domestic violence groups, and civil libertarians

Facebook is bowing to more government censorship requests

The number of official takedown requests that Facebook has consented to in Pakistan has ballooned by 1,000 percent in the past year — and free-speech advocates say the social network is too quick to cave in to government demands for censorship

Technology set journalism free, now new platforms are in control

As Emily Bell of Columbia pointed out in a recent speech about the disruption of journalism by technology, publishing has never been easier — but now it is controlled in a disturbing way by proprietary corporate platforms like Twitter and Facebook

Google has free speech right in search results, court confirms

A San Francisco court ruled last week that Google has the right to arrange its search results as it pleases, which confirms the company’s long-held view, while underscoring the stark difference in how U.S. and European seek to regulate the search giant.