President Barack Obama said Sony Pictures Entertainment made a mistake in canceling the release of its movie "The Interview" in the face of threats from North Korean computer hackers.
"We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States," Mr. Obama said at a year-end White House news conference. "If somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what's going to happen when they see a documentary they don't like or news reports they don't like."
But Sony Pictures Chairman-CEO Michael Lynton told CNN that the president was "mistaken" on the facts and couldn't have opened the film without theater chains willing to show it.
"We have not given in," Mr. Lynton said, according to CNN. "And we have not backed down. We have always had every desire to have the American public see this movie."
Mr. Obama's criticism of Sony came amid calls for retaliation against the North Korean government, which the FBI said Friday was behind the attacks. It adds another element to the controversy that has enveloped the studio since the release of internal e-mails by the hackers and the decision to cancel the movie's scheduled Dec. 25 release.
Sony received a new threat today from the purported hackers, congratulating the studio for pulling the film "The Interview" and demanding it never be shown.
"Now we want you never let the movie released, distributed or leaked in any form of, for instance, DVD or piracy," said an e-mail, which was sent to executives Mr. Lynton and Sony Pictures Co-Chairman Amy Pascal, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. "And we want everything related to the movie, including its trailers, as well as its full version down from any website hosting them immediately."
In return, the hackers pledged to "ensure the security of your data unless you make additional trouble," according to the new e-mail.
Mr. Obama said he wished Sony "had spoken to me first" before opting to pull the film comedy, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco.
"I would've told them 'do not get into a pattern in which you're intimidated by these kinds of threats and attacks,'" the president told reporters.
"The Interview" is about a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
"It says something interesting about North Korea," Mr. Obama said. "I love Seth, and I love James. But the notion that that was a threat to them gives some sense of the regime we're dealing with here."
The hackers, who posted internal Sony files and emails on a public website, caused a lot of damage, the president said, adding that he sympathized with the challenge faced by Sony executives in deciding whether or not to release the film.
"We will respond," the president said, "a place and time and manner that we choose." He refused to outline what steps might be taken.
Malicious software in the Sony attack revealed links to malware previously used by North Koreans, according to the FBI. The tools used also were similar to a cyber-attack in March 2013 against South Korean banks and media organizations.
~ Bloomberg News ~