Sony to make "The Interview" available to theaters, video on demand on Christmas Day after all

Good news. I wonder what changed their minds.

The plan is to release the film simultaneously in participating theaters and via video on demand. The Plaza theater in Atlanta and a theater in Austin have now said they will distribute the film…

A plan to distribute “The Interview” over Dish Network fell apart after talks between Sony and the satellite TV provider broke down over the weekend.

The exact list of distributors was not immediately available, but the Art House Convergence, a national coalition of smaller, independent movie theaters, on Monday told Sony Pictures that its members are also willing and anxious to screen “The Interview.”

The likeliest explanation is damage control. They’ve gotten tons of bad press for pulling the movie, even though they pulled it only after every major national theater chain pulled it first. But … they’ve also gotten tons of bad press from the e-mails released by the hackers, with promises of more embarrassing leaks to come if Sony made “The Interview” available to the public. Remember, the hackers reportedly lifted 100 terabytes of data from the company, a fantastically huge amount and only a tiny bit of which has been published so far. If Sony had embargoed “The Interview” permanently, it would have been off the media’s radar by New Year’s. As it is, they’re risking new leaks far into the future for doing this.

So “damage control” doesn’t really cut it. Maybe this became a matter of principle for them. Between Obama urging them publicly to release the film, Clooney trying to drum up outrage in Hollywood, and their own understandable umbrage at being under a bunch of hackers’ thumbs, they might have decided that the only dignified move left was to extend a middle finger of freedom and put the film out. It’s empowering to defy an extorter, even if the consequences are likely to be grim. And it could be that the good PR they’ll get from doing this will make the media less willing to abet the hackers from now on by breathlessly publishing whatever new material leaks.

Another possibility is that that the feds have gained some sort of advantage against the hackers that we don’t yet know about. If they’ve identified the people responsible and arrests are imminent (or, say, if China has quietly issued an ultimatum to Kim to knock this off ASAP), Sony might know. Releasing the film after arrests are made and it’s “safe” to support free speech again would look weak. Releasing it now, when they’re still at risk, is daring. And it’s good business. The movie looks terrible; the minute it loses its value as a free-speech cause celebre, it loses 95 percent of the reason to see it. Might as well cash in while public curiosity is high, knowing that the crash is coming.

Unrelated exit question for First Amendment lawyers since I’m too lazy to write a separate post: Since we’re on the topic of free speech, does Massachusetts have a shot at getting a conviction against this guy that’ll stick?

A Chicopee man who officials say made a threatening comment towards police on a social media page will be charged.

Police say Charles Dirosa wrote, “Put Wings On Pigs” on his Facebook page Monday…

“After the events of the past few days, the PD took this threat very seriously,” Chicopee police officials wrote on the department’s Facebook page. 

My understanding of the law on threats is that courts typically give defendants a wide berth when what they’re saying could be interpreted as an especially hyperbolic form of political speech. The famous example is the Vietnam War protester who told a rally in the mid-60s that if the army drafted him, the first person he’d have in his sights is LBJ. That conviction was overturned. Arguably, “put wings on pigs” is the same sort of incendiary exaggeration but applied to the police. Problem is, the degenerate who shot the two cops in New York said something similar on social media and he obviously wasn’t exaggerating. Does his act move another man’s threat out of the realm of exaggeration into “credible threat” territory? And does the objective/subjective standard matter here? I don’t think so, just because it seems clear that “Put Wings on Pigs” is supposed to make cops afraid. It’s not an ambiguous statement that people might interpret one way as a threat and another way as something completely innocuous.

Update: The man at the eye of the storm rejoices.

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