Thank you Maya, Ross, and Jen for your thought provoking comments. Ross, in response to your question about the threat of legal action from Sony to journalists (and potentially any scholarly presses who publish research utilizing this material), I will reiterate the point I made in my response to Maya’s piece. If Sony did sue a publisher based on this material, it has the potential to have the opposite effect and make this material legally accessible in court records and documentation. Then again, if they settled out of court, which tends to happen with more contemporary Hollywood lawsuits, the evidence and documentation will not be accessible. Plus, would Sony really sue the trade publications like Variety and Hollywood Reporter that reported on the hack, whereas they were not the hackers themselves that broke the law? Would it be responsible journalism (and we could extend that to scholarship) to ignore the revelations uncovered in this leaked material, when it is out there and exposed?
The 1982 film Tron is notable as the first film with a significant amount of mise-en-scene constructed by computers. 1996’s Toy Story is notable as the first *successful* film of that kind. I’ve often wondered, would it have taken 14 years for a successful CG film to be made if Tron had been less of a failure? In other words, did Tron unnecessarily scare studios away from CG?
I’m wondering, Jen, if we can make any useful prognostications about the future of on-demand distribution from The Interview? Do you think Sony realizes they mishandled it? Do they realize it was a pretty mediocre film to begin with? Basically, do they think the problem is exclusively or even primarily with this distribution model and what does that mean for the future?
Jen — Your point about mistrust is certainly true. And, I should point out, that if film industry executives are looking for a friendly library, they could certainly start with AMPAS’ Margaret Herrick Library. There, of course, trust doesn’t even have to be established. We all talk about the problem of access and I would love to see SCMS committees address this issue. I’m certainly happy to help bridge those gaps.
I love that idea of partnerships between libraries, archives, and media companies to allow journalists and scholars access to “de-classified” materials! I am afraid that efforts to make that happen could encounter a very basic problem: many people in the industry still don’t quite understand what we do, and unfortunately, that leads to a great amount of mistrust. They are afraid that we will paint them in a bad light or that we claim we are using their information for one thing when we are in fact doing something else with it.
I think your post highlights the need for increased cooperation between academics and industry and perhaps this is something that the SCMS committee on Media Archives should take up: an increased effort to communicate with studios and other media companies about the importance and value of archiving their materials.
That’s an interesting point, Ross, about potential resistance from publishers, which overlaps with issues related to fair use and questions about what other materials scholars can use in their work (both in the classroom and in their publications).
Maya pointed out that Sony blamed the media coverage for encouraging the hack and inflaming the situation, but I think their critique was off (as were so many things in their response to this hack!) in that there was more intra-industry excitement about and interest in these materials than there was among the general public.
Emily — I’m interested to see what future scholars produce based on this material and imagine that some of this will already be on display at SCMS later this month. Having said that, I’m curious if you (and others) imagine any resistance from academic (or trade) publishers for reproducing some of this material since Sony Pictures attorneys were quick to threaten a lawsuit against anyone using resources procured through the hack? This “illicit archive” might turn out to be problematic depending on which information is used.
Emily—Fascinating historical connection between the battling stars and executives revealed by the leak and similar professional antagonisms of the classical era that we’ve only been able to learn about decades later through archive access. And Cleopatra, the bridge between the generations!
Something that stands out to me in the comparison between Sony’s leak and memos from the studio era being released through controlled means is the gossip frenzy that erupted around the former. Sony and other industry folks (Aaron Sworkin) blamed the media’s coverage of the leak for encouraging the hackers and unnecessarily inflaming the situation. However, the media blitz adds a meta-commentary to the materials that offers its own valuable insights into industry culture. On the other hand, there is something peaceful in considering primary sources that have not been widely assessed—and certainly not by mass exposure or consumption. As the researcher you get an opportunity to look almost objectively at the information. I suppose it’s the difference of being the lonely researcher in a room with boxes of files vs. being on the sofa in the middle of the night watching the event/sources unfold on the Internet with millions of others.
Jen—Interesting idea of media studies scholars looking to journalism for some cues on how to work with material that has been questionably sourced. I do think there is a way as activist-researchers to justify the use of such materials for a larger “good’ and protect ourselves in the process. Philip—To your point, Sony has to choose its battles here. Do they take on damage control by going after “regular people” on Twitter who have little to lose (a few tweets removed) vs. firing its chairman as a way to save face in front of its biggest stars, and the POTUS? The Sony leak provided some new evidence on industry racism and sexism—a problem that has been part of the business since its inception. You’re right, here the company must be careful in how it presents itself in the question that surely many have wondered: who is the worse evil, the hackers or discriminators?
Emily—Excellent to point out how court papers are often the most telling research documents: the nature of the court system—and those using it—in its necessity for detailed defense and response produces copious materials. And the final irony, for Sony trying to maintain its privacy, that once entered into such a system, the material becomes public.
Thank you Maya, as well as Jen and Philip, for highlighting the ethical issues at play with the Sony Hack and access for scholarship on contemporary Hollywood industries. Jen, I am inclined to agree with you that given the large disparity of materials available on Hollywood (at any given point over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries of the industry), any access is vital. I’m also intrigued by Maya and Philip’s points about Sony’s threat of legal action against the publications who have published information revealed from the hack and the potential conflicts over using this leaked information in scholarly research. Aside from the limited donated collections of studio archives, one of the few outlets through which to examine contracts in Hollywood has been through litigation, as the documents become accessible through LA Superior Court (see Eric Hoyt’s excellent essay “”Writer in the Hole: Desny v. Wilder, Copyright Law, and the Battle Over Ideas.” and Philip Drake’s ” ‘Reputational capital, creative conflict and Hollywood independence: the case of Hal Ashby,” both of which utilized such court records). So a Sony lawsuit trying to sequester and protect the hacked material has the potential to do the opposite and “archive” the hacked emails and material should it be used as evidence in court. Echoing Philip, such litigiousness might back fire for the studio.
I think Jen is absolutely correct that one should measure the potential for ethical good over the harm being done by working with illegally-obtained documents. We should also ask ourselves, as ethical scholars, what we might be willing to get in trouble over.
I wonder though, what the potential for negative fallout might be for Sony if they pursue their legal options too heavy-handedly. The Broeksmit case didn’t get a ton of attention, but the potential for looking like a company that cares more about *seeming* anti-racist or anti-sexist as opposed to *being* anti-racist or anti-sexist might bite them in the butt.
I also wonder the extent to which companies are wary of hacktivists like the free-internet wing of Anonymous. It’s all well and good for Sony if they can play the role of pro-Democracy martyr against the egotistical tyrant’s hackers. But when Sony starts to play the overly-litigious sexist/racist company, that wastes much of the goodwill they’ve built up throughout this affair.
Who knows? If enough scholars, journalists, activists, and others are willing to play martyr to Sony’s litigiousness, it may generate enough new bad publicity to force their hand towards addressing some of these issues.