Sony Hack Results in Lawsuit Over Failure to Prevent Movie Piracy

To Write Love on Her Arms

Movie distributors obviously don't like piracy, but a new lawsuit raises the question of whether they have any obligation to curtail it.

On Wednesday, Sony Pictures was hit with a complaint in Florida federal court by Possibility Pictures, the producer of To Write Love on Her Arms, starring Kat Dennings and Rupert Friend. The film, which had Justin Bieber's mother Pattie Malette serving as an executive producer to help out with marketing, was based on a true story about the treatment of a teenager suffering from depression and addiction and the launch of a non-profit to help others similarly afflicted.

According to the complaint, To Write Love on Her Arms was also one of four unreleased Sony films along with Annie, Mr. Turner and Still Alice that became illegally distributed online as a result of a 2014 cyber attack against Sony Pictures, which has been attributed to the North Koreans as retribution for The Interview.

After the hack, Sony has faced several lawsuits over failure to safeguard private data and most notably settled a class action from former employees in a deal worth somewhere between $5.5 million to $8 million.

The claim of this latest lawsuit is somewhat different than simple negligence. Possibility Pictures is pointing to a provision in its contract whereby Sony is allegedly obligated "to protect the Picture worldwide on the Internet directly or through third party vendors, representative or agents."

"The only remedy which Plaintiff seeks in this action is payment by SPWA of the amounts which would otherwise have been earned from the full exploitation of the distribution rights exclusively held by SPWA but for its breach of one or more of the material provisions of this Agreement, most notably the anti-piracy provisions," states the complaint (read in full here).

The plaintiff points to a press report that in the first six days following the data breach on Sony, its film was downloaded for free nearly 20,000 times and says that "does not take into account the exponential 'spidering-effect' of one illegal download then generating by itself numerous other, untraceable downloads and each of those subsequent downloads."

To Write Love on Her Arms is reported in the lawsuit to have been made for about $3.4 million and that the producer got an $800,000 advance from Sony. Thus, the out-of-pocket loss is $2.6 million, but Possibility Pictures has demanded from Sony the projected revenue of $8.7 million.

Sony declined comment about the lawsuit, but according to the complaint, it replied to the plaintiff in a July 12 letter denying any liability and contending that any dispute would be subject to arbitration. Sony also is alleged to have replied it had "no obligation ... to take any anti-piracy measures whatsoever."

Possibility Pictures, represented by attorney Stephen Calvacca, disputes this. The producer points to the part of the contract that states that Sony was "to use appropriate technical measures or other techniques, now known or hereafter devised, to assist in efforts to remove, disable or otherwise prevent unauthorized versions of the Picture on the Internet.'

Nodding to the Sony hack, the plaintiff states, "Clearly, SPWA failed to do those things, either on its own or in reliance upon the IT safeguards of parent-agent, SPE."