The leak of emails and intellectual property, including then-unreleased film The Interview, was labeled “a serious national security matter” by the White House. In January this year, President Obama issued an executive order increasing sanctions against North Korea, the purported origin of the hack on SPE’s network and computers.
Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sony Corporation, a Japanese multinational conglomerate. In offering retaliation on behalf of SPE, the White House placed SPE on par with critical U.S. infrastructure, though no one will be physically injured or die should SPE be hacked again, and the market won’t collapse if SPE loses money on all its movies this year.
If SPE, a foreign-owned, information security-challenged entertainment firm, is now entitled to military protection against cyberattack, what is it the White House and the U.S. will receive or has received in exchange?
What’s the exchange in this quid pro quo?
In 2013, STARZ network ordered the 16-episode adaptation of bestselling historical fiction novel, Outlander by author Diana Gabaldon, from production companies Tall Ship Productions, Story Mining & Supply Co., and Left Bank Productions, in association with Sony Pictures Television.
While STARZ was the U.S. distributor, offering the series on its own cable network, SPE’s TV arm appears to have handled overseas distribution to broadcast, cable, and video streaming services.
Outlander’s cross-genre narrative is set mainly in 1740s Scotland; the story is sympathetic to a Scottish protagonist and his time-traveling English wife who are caught between the British and Jacobites in the ramp up to the 1746 Battle at Culloden. The Scottish people and countryside are treated favorably in the series’ production.
The program debuted on STARZ in the U.S. on August 9 last year — a little less than six weeks before Scotland’s independence referendum (“IndyRef”). Outlander began airing in Canada and Australia in August also, and in October in Ireland after the IndyRef vote.
Distribution deals in other countries including Germany, Hungary, Japan, and the Netherlands led to wider release overseas last year.
But Outlander never received a distribution deal in 2014 in the UK, in spite of its many Scottish and British fans’ clamor and the source book’s status as a renewed bestseller in advance of the show’s U.S. debut. To date the series has only released on Amazon Prime Instant Video in the UK, for paid video-on-demand streaming — not on broadcast or cable.
At least one email leaked by hackers revealed that SPE personnel had a meeting or meetings with Cameron’s government. In an internal email from Keith E. Weaver, executive vice president, SPE executives were told,
“Your meeting with Prime Minister Cameron on Monday will likely focus on our overall investment in the U.K. – with special emphasis on the jobs created by Tommy Cooper [the ITV show], the importance of Outlander (i.e., particularly vis-a-vis the political issues in the U.K. as Scotland contemplates detachment this Fall), and the growth of our channels business…”
The implication is that SPE would suppress any effort to distribute Outlander to the benefit of Cameron’s anti-independence position, in exchange for “growth of our channels business…”
What exactly does this mean?
And is the pursuit of growth confined to SPE, or did “channels business” mean something else? Were Sony executives also looking for opportunities for Sony Corporation, which includes Sony Computer Entertainment, Sony Music Entertainment, Sony Mobile Communications (once known as Sony Ericsson), and Sony Financial?
Did SPE executives and the Prime Minister agree not to seek broadcast or cable distribution Outlander in the UK before this month’s election? Continue reading
“But the themes they use in their stories—they’re liberal,” they rebutted. Again, bullshit.
The proof is in the numbers. Hollywood is a backward institution, the leadership and ownership of which are overwhelmingly white and male.
Entertainment looks as bad if not worse than most other industries in the U.S., when diversity measurements are compared. The entertainment industry in no way resembles the public to which it sells its wares, whether in front or behind the camera.
For women, a majority of the population at 51%, the numbers are grim:
- Males outnumber females 3 to 1 in family films. In contrast, females comprise just over 50% of the population in the United States. Even more staggering is the fact that this ratio, as seen in family films, is the same as it was in 1946.
- Females are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in sexy attire. Further, females are nearly twice as likely as males to be shown with a diminutive waistline. Generally unrealistic figures are more likely to be seen on females than males.
- Females are also underrepresented behind the camera. Across 1,565 content creators, only 7% of directors, 13% of writers, and 20% of producers are female. This translates to 4.8 males working behind-the-scenes to every one female.
- From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, as a business leader, in law, or politics. In these films, 80.5% of all working characters are male and 19.5% are female, which is a contrast to real world statistics, where women comprise 50% of the workforce.
[Source: Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media]
Boldface above is mine; the numbers are beyond absurd when it comes to female directors. The Directors’ Guild of America has a folder (binder, if you’d rather) with the names of 1200 female directors. The Director’s List has collected the names of 1800 female directors, even larger than the DGA’s binder full of women.
But the number of women contracted by the major studios to make films is in the single digits?
That’s far from liberal by any stretch of the imagination.
The lack of women behind the camera distorts what the public sees before it:
- Only 15% of all clearly identifiable protagonists were female (up 4 percentage points from 2011, down one percentage point from 2002), 71% are male, and 14% are male/female ensembles (see Figure 1).
- Females comprised 29% of major characters, down 4 percentage points from 2011, but up 2 percentage points from 2002.
- Females accounted for 30% of all speaking characters (includes major and minor characters) in 2013, down 3 percentage points from 2011, but up 2 percentage points from 2002.
[Source: It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World: On-Screen Representations of Female Characters in the Top 100 Films of 2013, Martha M. Lauzen, PhD, Center of the Study of women in Television and Film, San Diego State University (White paper, PDF)]
Nor does it appear to matter whether film or television, when looking at the composition of directors. White men hold nearly identical percentages of directors’ slots in either media.— roughly 70%.
What does a crowd with realistic, or even equitable representation of women look like? We can’t rely on Hollywood to show us, based on this data. Our societal mirror is broken, at the expense of our mothers, daughters, sisters, ourselves. Continue reading
Note this bit:
Mr Rognlie mounts three main criticisms of these arguments. First, he argues that the rate of return from capital probably declines over the long run, rather than remaining high as Mr Piketty suggests, due to the law of diminishing marginal returns. Modern forms of capital, such as software, depreciate faster in value than equipment did in the past: a giant metal press might have a working life of decades while a new piece of database-management software will be obsolete in a few years at most. This means that although gross returns from wealth may well be rising, they may not necessarily be growing in net terms, since a large share of the gains that flow to owners of capital must be reinvested.
Most commercial software used by corporations, including the example of database-management software, is licensed. Users are licensees, not owners.
Software doesn’t necessarily obsolesce, either. I’ve worked for businesses using software that was as much as twenty years old. Small businesses, in particular, can continue to run well on old accounting software, provided they don’t need highly granular reporting.
What does become obsolete is the hardware. If software no longer runs on an older system, or if it is no longer serviced by the licensor (ex: Windows XP), the licensee has simply reached the limit of the license.
This includes upgrades by software manufacturers for reasons of security improvements: if users don’t upgrade for improved security, they’re outside the limits of the license.
The only entities that might be able to claim software is capital are software companies. This might not even be the case if capital is limited to the licenses they’ve granted and claimed as assets — any accountant, tax attorney or IP attorney want to respond to this?
The confusion about software’s nature probably lies in our accounting and tax systems, which may treat software as an amortizable intangible asset. (Feel free to correct me in comments as I am not an accountant, nor a tax preparer, nor a tax attorney.)
But most commercial software remains a licensed product.
Companies are also moving toward “software as a service” (SaaS), provided a license to access software on software providers’ systems. Microsoft’s Office 365, Google Apps, Salesforce.com are examples of SaaS. There are even further reductions in companies’ need for investment in hardware when subscribing to “infrastructure as a service” and “platform as a service,” like IBM, Amazon, and other technology companies offer.
These are contracted services — definitely not rapidly depreciating capital assets.
What exactly does Rognlie mean by “modern forms of capital” when his understanding of software is flawed?
I haven’t looked deeply at the rest of the arguments Rognlie offered as a rebuttal to Piketty’s theory. This bit checked me short, giving me concerns about his remaining points addressing returns on wealth, and on distribution of net capital income.
[UPDATE: Do read Ed Walker’s comment about this piece in The Economist.]
A fresh spin on insider trading also made news this week, when the SEC filed a lawsuit against two Capital One fraud investigators who made 1800 percent on their investment over three years, based on their use of a Capital One credit card user database.
The two investigators, Bonan Huang and Nan Huang, grew an investment of $147,300 to $2.8 million based on thousands of searches across a database comprised of credit card customer transactions. Noting the volume of use of credit cards at a particular fast food company, they bought and traded the company’s stock based on this data.
Over time they made similar stock trades based on transactional volume and other publicly available news about three different companies.
Had the database been one for sale by a company rather than their employer’s proprietary database, the Huangs would have been lauded as investment rock stars. But because the method they used “misappropriates confidential information for securities trading purposes, in breach of a duty owed to the source of the information,” the two men are being sued for insider trading.
The Huangs’ trading experience gives pause when one considers the value of metadata, and of the data breach at JP Morgan Chase this past year.
Metadata can offer a volume of transactional activity, though it will not disclose the value of a transaction. Imagine smartphones indicating they are being used at particular devices – point-of-sale devices – at any retailer, from fast food to hard lines. An uptick in overall activity at a specific retailer indicates greater volume of business, the data fresher than that reported in a 10-Q report filed publicly with the SEC. What could an investor do with this kind of data? One could imagine success not much different than the Huangs experienced, provided they also understood other publicly available information about the retailers under observation. Continue reading
Last Friday, CNBC interviewed Andrey Kostin, CEO of Russia’s second largest bank, following the EU’s decision to extend economic sanctions against Russia, ostensibly to punish Russia for hostilities against Ukraine. Kostin’s comments were combative.
“You know, we have quite a strong opinion on sanctions. Sanctions, in other words, is economic war against Russia. Economic war will definitely have and will have very negative implications on the Russian economy, but more than that it will have very negative implications on the political dialogue and on security in Europe. And who wants to live in a less secure world? I think nobody. I think it’s the wrong way to treat Russia like this. I think it will never to lead to any other consequences as to less stability and less secure Europe.” [sic]
“”You can’t treat any country like this. You know you can’t say, if you behave rightly, that’s a small [weep*] for you, if you behave wrongly, that’s a big [weep*] for you.’ That’s not a dialog, that’s a threat. … I think we should talk. I mean, politicians should talk, like business men. Business men do talk, and they are interested in working together. …”
In short, Russia feels the sanctions are warfare, and they want to deal. They’d really like the asymmetric attack on finance to stop short of terminating Russian banks’ access to SWIFT (the impact of which WaPo spells out).
But the banks’ discomfort with the sanctions and continued incursions against Ukraine aren’t the only signs of Russian belligerence. By year end, there had been forty events characterized as “close military encounters” during 2014, according to European Leadership Network, a non-partisan, nonprofit think tank. Continue reading
Yeah, me, too — I can’t do football tonight. Once the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers were knocked out of the running, I didn’t have a horse in the race any longer and couldn’t muster the whatev to bother following the limp ball debacle.
Instead of watching the game, I’m going to knock something off my To-Be-Watched List this evening. At the top is television series Black Mirror, Season 1, produced by Channel 4 in the UK. It’s been a while since I watched some speculative/sci-fi television, and I’ve heard a LOT of great things about this series from people whose opinions I respect.
Season 1 is available via YouTube; Seasons 1 and 2 are available to stream now on Netflix.
If you’re not watching the Super Bowl, what are you doing this evening (or very early morning on the other side of the dateline)?
This painting by Swedish painter Carl Larsson, dated 1904, depicts a Christmas Eve gathering. Family members present are not giddy but quietly enjoying the prospect of the feast they will share, set out before them. Snow falls outside in the growing dark as candle and fire light fills the space within. The picture is illuminated as well by the serving girl’s soft smile – she and what she bears, created by human hands, are as important and warming as the light within the room.
Tonight in my household we are making Swedish cookies from a recipe left to us by a departed family member. We laugh over happy memories we shared with them, and now make new memories over this messy communion flavored with cinnamon, sugar, and too much butter. The fun and memories are as important as the cookies themselves; they create the foundation for decades of holidays yet to come.
I hope you are also someplace warm and happy tonight, enjoying pleasant memories and making more. Do something joyful, whether for yourself or others, even if you are alone. Embrace the expectation of increasing light in the days ahead.
And I wish Marcy and Mr. Wheel, Jim, bmaz, Ed, their families, and all the rest of the Emptywheel crew and community a very happy and peaceful Christmas.
Ever try to follow an evolving story in which the cascade of trouble grew so big and moved so fast it was like trying to stay ahead of a pyroclastic flow?
That’s what it’s like keeping up with emerging reports about the massive cyber attack on Sony. (Granted, it’s nothing like the torture report, but Hollywood has a way of making the story spin harder when it’s about them.)
The second most ridiculous part of the Sony hack story is the way in which the entertainment industry has studiously avoided criticizing those most responsible for data security.
In late November, when the hacker(s) self-identified as “Guardians of Peace” made threats across Sony Pictures’ computer network before releasing digital film content, members of the entertainment industry were quick to revile pirates they believed were intent on stealing and distributing digital film content.
When reports emerged implicating North Korea as the alleged source of the hack, the industry backpedaled away from their outrage over piracy, mumbling instead about hackers.
The industry’s insiders shifted gears once again it was revealed that Sony’s passwords were in a password-protected file, and the password to this file was ‘password.‘
At this juncture you’d think Sony’s employees and contractors – whose Social Security numbers, addresses, emails, and other sensitive information had been exposed – would demand a corporate-wide purge of IT department and Sony executives.
You’d think that anyone affiliated with Sony, whose past and future business dealings might also be exposed would similarly demand expulsion of the incompetents who couldn’t find OPSEC if it was tattooed on their asses. Or perhaps investors and analysts would descend upon the corporation with pitchforks and torches, demanding heads on pikes because of teh stoopid.
Instead the industry has been tsk-tsking about the massive breach, all the while rummaging through the equivalent of Sony Pictures’ wide-open lingerie drawer, looking for industry intelligence. Reporting by entertainment industry news outlets has focused almost solely on the content of emails between executives.
But the first most ridiculous part of this massive assault on Sony is that Sony has been hacked more than 50 times in the last 15 years.
Yes. That’s More Than Fifty.
Inside Fifteen Years. Continue reading
Recently, computer security firm Symantec reported discovery of another intelligence-gathering malware, dubbing it “Regin.”
What’s particularly interesting about this malware is its targets:
Please do read Symantec’s blog post and its technical paper on Regin to understand how it works as well as its targets. Many news outlets either do not understand malware and cybersecurity, or they get facts wrong whenever major malware attacks are reported. Symantec’s revelation about Regin is no different in this respect.
Independent.ie offers a particularly exceptional example distorting Symantec’s report, claiming “Ireland is one of the countries worst hit globally by a dangerous new computer virus that spies on governments and companies, according to a leading technology firm.”
If by “worst hit,” they mean among the top four countries targeted by this malware? Sure. But only 9% of the infections affected Irish-based computers, versus 28% of infections aimed at Russian machines, and 24% affecting Saudi machines. The Independent.ie’s piece reads like clickbait hyperbole, or fearmongering, take your pick.
What wasn’t addressed by the Independent.ie and numerous other outlets, including those covering the tech sector are some fundamental questions:
The Guardian came closest to examining these issues, having interviewed researchers at computer security firm F-Secure to ask the origins of the malware. As of 24-NOV-2014, the firm’s Mikko Hypponen speculated that the US, UK, and/or Israel were behind Regin’s development and deployment.
As of the video embedded above, Hypponen firmly says the UK’s intelligence entity GCHQ is behind Regin, in particular the malware’s invasion of a Belgian telecom network (see video at 07:20). Continue reading
Not as much as Moscow, mind you, but we get snow where I live in flyover country USA. Any time between mid-October and mid-April we can expect some frozen precipitation. A blizzard in October isn’t unheard of — we had one 17 years ago this week, in fact. I’ve lived with six months of snow per year for most of my life.
Which is why the photo here of the crash site looks sketchy to me.
Early reports indicated the plane carrying de Margerie hit or was hit by a snowplow driven by a drunken operator, in poor visibility. It’s not clear exactly which hit the other based on different accounts across the internet. A Russian reconstruction video furnished to Le Figaro shows the plane’s wing clipping a vehicle upon landing — but the video exerts more effort on the fire and smoke than it does on the initial impact. Note in this second video of the plane after the crash during daylight hours that the wing which hit the plow as characterized in the video is missing.
At least one article claimed debris was spread 200 meters by the plane after impact. Perhaps the wing was in that debris, but it’s not reflected in the Russian reconstruction video. A more recent report said the snowplow was parked on the runway.
Ultimately, what we see is a plane that flipped over — either tipped over by the force of a plow, or flipped over after impact.
And no snow. This particular photo is rather pixelated, but it doesn’t reflect reduced visibility due to snowfall. There’s no snow in the second video link above, though visibility has worsened. Continue reading