the interview (logo-poster)

*Washington, D.C. – Now that Sony has agreed not to release “The Interview” because of threats from hackers, some have suggested that one way to defeat this novel form of censorship would be for Sony to skip theaters and release the movie directly to the public, either through its own distribution channels or by using existing distributions systems such as Netflix, Amazon, HBO, etc.

But it’s highly unlikely that, even if Netflix, Amazon, or HBO were courageous enough to risk a similar hacker attack from the GOP [Guardians of Peace], Sony would cooperate.

Ironically, instead of fighting the hackers, Sony seems to be going after other innocent companies, sending warning letters – which most legal scholars think are pure bluff – to web sites releasing Sony’s secret information, or apparently going into the hacking business themselves with DDoS (distributed denial of service) and index poisoning (deliberately corrupting Sony files people are trying to download) attacks to limit the distribution of its intellectual property and embarrassing confidential information.

“But there’s a better way to strike back against this forced censorship – fight fire with fire,” says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who was recently credited with helping to inspire hacker terminology after he learned hacking at MIT even before there was an Internet or any personal computers.

“White hats – hackers who try to serve the public interest, and who generally abhor censorship – could fight back by making the movie available on line for anyone who wanted to see it, thereby thwarting the GOP’s efforts at preventing its release by using Internet-based threats, suggests Banzhaf.

There probably are at least rough cuts if not final versions of the film already available to knowledgeable hackers, and putting them up on untraceable servers so that anyone who wished could download them would defeat this extortion by using good hackers to undercut unscrupulous ones.

“It seems clear that if pirated copies of the movie are made available to people in China or other nearby countries, they will quickly find their way into North Korea, which appears to be what its dictator was so afraid of,” suggests Banzhaf. There would be a wonderful irony if a plot based upon hacking and unauthorized disclosure was defeated by more hacking and more unauthorized disclosure, says Banzhaf.

Sony would hardly be in a position to complain if its movie is made widely available for free on the Internet if they are never going to release it.

Indeed, one can almost argue that this strategy, under these unique circumstances, involves “Fair Use” under copyright law, says Banzhaf, an expert in copyright law who was the first person even to get copyright protection for computer programs.

john banzhaf

Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)

2000 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20052, USA / @profbanzhaf