Sony’s Unreleased ‘Annie’ Said Pulled From Sharing Sites

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Sony Pictures’ holiday release “Annie” was removed from some file-sharing websites in response to cease-and-desist demands from the studio, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

The studio sent letters demanding the sites eliminate links to the film, said the person, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and asked to remain anonymous. Sony Pictures, which was crippled by computer hacking and had some movies stolen, has offered employees identity and credit-theft protection insurance in the wake of the attack, the person said.

“Annie,” set for release Dec. 19 as one of Tokyo-based Sony Corp.’s major holiday pictures, was obtained in the attack last week that gave the perpetrators access to confidential employee information, including executive salaries, and unreleased films. Sony’s computer systems are still recovering, and the studio is pursuing similar measures to remove its other movies from file-sharing sites, the person said.

“It is now apparent that a large amount of confidential Sony Pictures Entertainment data has been stolen by the cyber attackers, including personnel information and business documents,” Sony Entertainment Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal, co-chairman Sony Pictures Entertainment, said in a memo to staff. “This is the result of a brazen attack on our company, our employees and our business partners. This theft of Sony materials and the release of employee and other information are malicious criminal acts, and we are working closely with law enforcement.”

Permanent Damage

Shares of Sony fell 1.1 percent to 2,596 yen at the close of trade in Tokyo, paring this year’s gain to 42 percent.

Some of the hacking damage was inflicted by a so-called wiper virus, two people said. Sony is assessing whether the damage is permanent, said the person, who added the attackers haven’t asked for a ransom or made any demands. Sony’s television production arm, part of the Culver City, California-based entertainment division, has been largely unaffected.

“Annie,” a remake of the 1982 film, is the biggest unreleased movie among those that were stolen and leaked. “Still Alice” and “Mr. Turner,” two Oscar hopefuls planned for limited release, also turned up on file-sharing sites, along with “Fury,” a Brad Pitt war drama that was in cinemas in October, and “To Write Love on Her Arms.”

“Fury” has been downloaded more than 500,000 times from one service alone since the Sony attack, according to TorrentFreak, a news site that tracks copyright, privacy and related issues.

James Bond

Sony’s motion picture production unit generated sales of about 182 billion yen ($1.5 billion) in the three months ended September, according to data compiled by Bloomberg

“There will be diminishing value for Sony Pictures’ leaked films, especially for Annie,” said Damian Thong, a Tokyo-based analyst at Macquarie Group Ltd., who has an outperform rating on the stock. “In the worst case scenario, if people do not go to theaters to watch these movies and do not purchase DVDs, there will be 25 billion yen estimated loss.”

Sony Pictures has been pressing ahead with business as much as possible, the person familiar with the matter said. The studio scheduled a Dec. 4 announcement of the cast and start of filming for the 24th James Bond film. Sony is producing the picture, set for a November 2015 release, with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios.

North Korea may have had a hand in the attack, according to two people with the knowledge of the investigation.

North Korea?

The malware contained Korean language code, and other aspects of the breach bear important similarities to attacks that wiped out the computers of South Korean banks and broadcasters in March 2013, said the people, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly and asked not to be identified.

The FBI sent a flash alert to U.S. companies about the malware on Dec. 1, mentioning the use of Korean language, while not linking it directly to the attack on Sony’s entertainment unit. One of the people confirmed the alert refers to malware in the Sony case.

North Korea’s United Nations mission didn’t respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

When asked about the attack, a spokesman for North Korea’s UN mission told the BBC: “The hostile forces are relating everything to the DPRK (North Korea). I kindly advise you to just wait and see.”

In June, North Korea promised to “mercilessly destroy” anyone associated with an action-comedy movie that depicts an attempt to assassinate leader Kim Jong Un.

The breach occurred a month before the scheduled release of “The Interview,” a comedy about a CIA plot to kill the North Korea’s leader.

The Seth Rogen film, due in theaters on Dec. 25, features Rogen and James Franco as TV producers who are recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency to assassinate Kim. Plans for the film drew a rebuke from the country, with a foreign ministry spokesman saying in state media that the release would be an “act of war,” according to the BBC.