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Sony Pictures backtracks, allows limited release of The Interview

By Eric Kelsey and David Brunnstrom

Sony Pictures cleared the way on Tuesday for release of The Interview in some US theaters on Christmas Day, less than a week after pulling the movie following a devastating cyberattack that has been blamed on North Korea.

Sony Pictures Chief Executive Michael Lynton said there would be “a limited theatrical release” in the United States of the comedy about a fictional plot to assassinate North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, and said the studio was looking for more options to screen the film.

Sony Pictures last Wednesday canceled the Dec. 25 release after major US theatre chains pulled out of showing the film because of threats from hackers. It said it was “deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie.”

Lynton said in Tuesday’s statement: “We have never given up on releasing The Interview and we’re excited our movie will be in a number of theaters on Christmas Day.” He said Sony was trying to secure other platforms and more theaters “so that this movie reaches the largest possible audience.”

The White House said President Barack Obama was pleased that Sony had rethought its decision. “The decision made by Sony and participating theaters allows people to make their own choices about the film, and we welcome that outcome,” presidential spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement.

Obama on Friday called Sony’s decision to pull the movie a mistake, suggesting it could set a bad precedent in which “some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States.”

The founder of the Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain, Tim League, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that it planned to show the film. A theater in Atlanta, the Plaza Atlanta, said on social media that it will also show the movie.

It remained unclear how many theaters would be allowed to screen the film and if major movie chains, which had decided not to open the film last week owing to security concerns, would join the group of authorized exhibitors.

THREAT NOT DEEMED CREDIBLE

A national security official said US authorities did not rate the threats by hackers against theater-goers as credible and that he was unaware of any plans by US agencies to issue warnings of possible attacks to cinemas screening the film.

North Korea experienced a Internet problems at the weekend and a complete outage of nearly nine hours before links were largely restored on Tuesday; US officials said Washington was not involved.

Links were restored at 0146 GMT on Tuesday, but two brief outages occurred later in the day, said US-based Dyn Research, a company that monitors Internet infrastructure.

Jim Cowie, chief scientist at Dyn Research, said the intermittent nature of the outages suggested they were not due to a decision in North Korea or elsewhere to disconnect the Internet but could support the theory of cyber attacks – or power problems inside North Korea.

Matthew Prince, CEO of US-based CloudFlare, which protects websites from web-based attacks, said the fact that North Korea’s Internet was back up “is pretty good evidence that the outage wasn’t caused by a state-sponsored attack; otherwise it’d likely still be down for the count.”

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told a regular briefing on Tuesday she had no new information on U.S. options on responding to North Korea or any comment on the country’s internet outages. “I leave it North Koreans to talk about if their Internet was up, if it wasn’t and why,” she said.

Almost all of North Korea’s Internet links and traffic pass through China and Beijing dismissed any suggestion that it was involved as “irresponsible.”

South Korea, which remains technically at war with North Korea, said meanwhile it could not rule out involvement by its neighbor in a cyberattack on its nuclear power plant operator. It said only non-critical data was stolen and operations were not at risk but had asked for U.S. help in investigating.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said on Tuesday the leak of data from the nuclear operator was a “grave situation” that was unacceptable as a matter of national security, but she did not mention any involvement of North Korea.

A SHOWING FOR CONGRESS?

On Friday, Republican Senator David Vitter called on Obama to host a screening of “The Interview” for members of Congress at the White House, saying North Korea could not be allowed to threaten American principles of freedom of speech.

On Monday, Democratic Representative Brad Sherman, the chairman of the Entertainment Industries Caucus, offered to screen the movie on Capitol Hill.

North Korea has denied it was behind the cyberattack on Sony and has vowed to hit back against any US retaliation, threatening the White House and the Pentagon.

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