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Is Sony Trying to Escape Liability by Dropping 'The Interview'?

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on December 18, 2014 11:58 AM

The terrorists have won. At least according to the Internet hordes decrying Sony's move to drop the release of "The Interview" on Christmas Day.

It certainly didn't help that theater chains across the country were refusing to show the comedic tale about a plot to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but there may also have been a legal motive. As The New York Times reports, lawsuits filed after the theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado, may have set the stage for Sony's decision.

Could Sony be hedging its legal bets by cancelling "The Interview?"

Parallels to Aurora Shooting

The shooting in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012 claimed 12 lives and injured dozens more during a screening of "The Dark Knight Rises." Although theater owner Cinemark had no prior knowledge of threats posed by suspected gunman James Holmes, suits were still filed against the company for lack of security in and around the theater. The legal argument: Dangerous conditions existed that allowed foreseeable criminal activity to occur, and because Cinemark knew or should have known of the danger, it should be held liable.

Cinemark was one of five theater chains which dumped "The Interview" like toxic waste after evaluating the threat of terrorist attacks on their theaters. While other chains chose to simply delay the film's Christmas opening, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Cinemark would not be screening the film "at this time."

It certainly seems as though Cinemark is still reeling from the legal hits taken in Aurora, and it may be much harder to claim ignorance of danger when there were terrorist threats on your desk.

What About Sony?

Theater owners' worries about potential liability for attacks are one thing, but what about Sony's potential legal woes? It isn't unprecedented for a movie producer to be blamed for deaths or injuries which can be linked to that movie's screening. Paramount had particular trouble with its 1979 film "The Warriors" which depicted youth gang warfare on the streets of New York City. According to Deadline, Paramount ultimately pulled the film from theaters after the eruption of "mob scenes" nationwide and the deaths of several moviegoers.

In 1989, a Massachusetts man was unsuccessful in suing Paramount for the wrongful death of his son, who in 1979 was attacked and stabbed to death by patrons who had just viewed "The Warriors." However, the Massachusetts court did determine that movie producers do owe some general duty of reasonable care to the public.

Would that duty have been breached if Sony hadn't pulled "The Interview" and violence had erupted? The question seems largely academic now, and we hope that moviegoers won't need to find out the answer.

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