Sony Pictures’ release of the movie “The Interview,” in which James Franco and Seth Rogen attempt to assassinate North Korean President Kim Jong-Un, has resulted in significant threats of violence at or against any theater that shows the film. As a result, Sony announced that it would allow the individual theaters to choose whether to show the film.
Some people are calling for theater owners to show the film as a way of standing up against the threats of violence in the name of free expression and against the idea that threats of violence can change the way we live our lives. As an anonymous member of the public, calling for someone else to stand up for basic freedoms is easy. For the theater owners themselves, and even the people debating on going to see the movie (or any other movie), there are serious legal questions that arise.
- By giving theater owners the ability to choose to show the film, has Sony given theater owners actual notice of potential threats?
- If so, has Sony shielded itself from any claims of injury resulting from any violence by putting the decision in the owners’ hands?
- Has the amount of media coverage surrounding the threats been pervasive enough to put theater owners on notice anyway?
- Does a theater owner who goes ahead and shows the movie, despite the known possibility of violence (however slight), have any liability to a customer who is injured if that violence occurs?
- Does a customer who goes to see the movie assume the risk of any injury if they knew of the potential threats?
- Does a customer who goes to see a different movie at the same theater assume the risk if they knew the “The Interview” was playing at that theater and also knew of the potential threats?
- What about bystanders on the street around the theater who are harmed if any potential violence occurred?
I can appreciate a business owner wanting to stand up against such threats by showing the movie. However, I can also understand the same owner being afraid they might lose their business in any ensuing litigation if something happened. One theater owner, Carmike Cinemas, the nation’s 4th largest theater in terms of screens, has already cancelled its showings of the movie.
Update: After several of the nation’s largest movie theater chains, including Regal, Cinemark, Carmike and Cineplex announced they were not going to show “The Interview” due to the violence threats, Sony has cancelled the movie’s planned December 25, 2014 release.