Sony Pictures Entertainment's lawyer has suggested that Twitter is violating state and federal laws by letting one of its users tweet data stolen by North Korean hackers.
High-powered lawyer David Boies sent Twitter a letter Monday on behalf of Sony demanding that it suspend the account of a user called @BikiniRobotArmy, who tweeted screenshots of Sony's embarrassing documents. That letter threatened legal action against Twitter.
However, Yale Law professor Jack Balkin told me in an email message, "As to most of the leaked on Twitter, Sony does not have a very good case."
Hacker group Guardians of Peace unleashed the documents several weeks ago as part of an apparent campaign to stop Sony from releasing "The Interview," a satire about the assassination of North Korea's dictator Kim Jong-un.
Boies has attempted to stop the spread of the leaked internal documents by asking the media to destroy the stolen documents. His letter to Twitter, posted online by the Wall Street Journal, claims Twitter violated several California state laws and federal laws.
One of those laws is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. This 1986 law makes it a crime to access a computer without authorization. The law, which was used to prosecute Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz, has been widely criticized for being too broad and outdated.
Another federal law Twitter is allegedly violating is the Copyright Act. This law protects certain material from being republished. (In this case, that material would be hacked information.) However, under a doctrine known as "fair use" it's okay to publish certain copyrighted work. For example, it's considered "fair use" to publish short excerpts from other publications, or to distribute copies of an article to college students.
Sony also says the publication of the stolen data violates California's Uniform Trade Secrets Act, which forbids the disclosure of a company's trade secrets.
If Sony did sue, Twitter would likely defend itself using the section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Balkin, the Yale Law professor, told me that this law, "which is one of the most important safeguards of freedom of speech on the internet, immunizes interactive service providers (like Twitter) from lawsuits for material that others publish on their sites."
As for the copyright argument, Balkin said, Twitter has a "fairly strong" argument that the publication of the hacked data constitutes fair use.
Balkin said Sony's best argument would be that some of the leaked data constituted trade secrets and wasn't available elsewhere on the internet. However, Balkin said, "[T]he majority of the leaked material would probably not meet these criteria."
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