Val Broeksmit, a California-based musician, has been combing through gigabytes worth of documents and has been tweeting out screenshots of leaked emails that he finds newsworthy for a couple weeks now. Amongst those are emails that talk about green lighting upcoming films, paying actors to tweet about films, emails sent to Sony by the purported hackers of the company (the “Guardians of Peace”), and internal bickering.
Last week, Elliott Ingram, a copyright specialist who works with Sony in the United Kingdom, reached out to warn him that if he did not delete the posts, the company would have to ask Twitter to do it for them.
“I'm contacting you on behalf of Sony Pictures, we have noticed that you posted some images on Twitter of content that was stolen from Sony in the recent criminal cyber-attack. This content includes personally identifiable information governed by privacy laws as well as other material protected by copyright, trade secret and other intellectual property laws,” the email said.
“Rather than complaining to Twitter and risk them taking action against your account, we thought we'd get in touch first and ask if you would remove the tweets that we've identified below," the email continued. "Additionally we request that you refrain from posting any further stolen content from Sony in the future.”
Broeksmit told me that he did not take the email seriously because it did not come from a Sony Pictures email address, but Ingram is contracted out by the company and indeed has sent similar emails to websites hosting the hacked material. Broeksmit said his Twitter account was temporarily suspended because the screenshots included the email addresses of Sony executives, which is against Twitter’s policy. It was reinstated and he has since been blacking out email addresses in his tweets.
Last night, however, Broeksmit got a more serious email from a lawyer at Sony.
“We are writing to confirm, as we believe you are already well aware, that [Sony] does not consent to any Twitter account holder’s possession, review, copying, dissemination, publication, uploading, downloading, or making any use of the Stolen Information, and to request your cooperation in removing the Stolen Information from the account @bikinirobotarmy and any other location where you may have posted the Stolen Information,” the email said.
The email asks Broeksmit to delete his tweets and to “arrange for and supervise the destruction of all copies of the Stolen Information in your possession [and to] confirm that such restriction has been completed.” It says if he continues posting information on Twitter, he’ll face legal action.
Broeksmit says that, despite receiving these threats, he’s going to continue tweeting information from the hack.
“I’m not with a newspaper and I think I can get away with it,” he said. “It’s important—the reason is it’s so new and different from anything we’ve seen before. This is a billion dollar company being made bare to the public. It’s crazy I have these emails, and it’s fascinating to learn how these companies work.”
In an email, a Twitter spokesperson told me that it does remove content that’s against its terms of service.
“We review all reported content against ourrules, which prohibit posting another person'sprivate information,” the spokesperson said. “Please note that this only applies to content (text or images) posted within a tweet; we do not follow links to apply our rules to other sites. If a user or company (e.g., Sony) submits an actionable DMCA takedown request to us, we'll disclose that toChilling Effects.”
An email I sent to Sean Jaquez, the Sony lawyer who emailed Broeksmit, was not returned. As far as I know, this is the first time Sony has publicly threatened private citizens who have downloaded the hacks. Early last week, the company sent a similar email to news organizations but did not ask them to delete any content or articles they had already published.