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A Cold Day In Culver City: Why the Sony Hack Further Complicates Future Archival Access for Scholars

by Ethan Tussey

by Ross Melnick for IN MEDIA RES

One of the most reported stories of the week is that Hillary Clinton used a private email server during her time as Secretary of State, a decision that prevented the National Archives from automatically preserving her emails. (In his rebuke, Lindsay Graham, who sits on the Senate Subcommittee for Privacy, Technology and the Law, proudly admitted that he has never sent an email.) Clinton and Graham might know something that Amy Pascal and others at Sony discovered the hard way—in cyberspace, everyone can hear you scream.

As the Sony Hack unfurled in 2014, I was struck by two issues that hit close to home: 1) As a former Sony employee, how much of my personal information had been dumped online? 2) More importantly, would this utterly convince media companies to never donate their archives (and especially correspondence) for public review?

As media scholars know all too well, access to contemporary memoranda, contracts, and other sensitive information is horrendously difficult to come by. Scanning special collections libraries around the country, one can find studio and network records, but nearly all of these materials predate 1970.

Conglomeration has continued to cannibalize smaller companies and their archives and has hidden large chunks of media history behind the moat of attorneys and corporate communications. Providing scholars with privileged access to company records is not an industry priority or proclivity. And, to be honest, why would it be? Meanwhile, the revelations that were exposed during the Sony Hack will only make the digital and physical walls around this material that much higher.

Still, there is one possible reason media companies might want to partner with libraries and archives. Part of the feeding frenzy that took place came from the lack of access to this information and Hollywood’s notorious secrecy over budgets, salaries, and internal and external deals and decision-making. 

Perhaps to lessen the impact of future leaks, what if media companies began partnering with libraries and archives to allow scholars (and journalists) access to “de-classified” materials just as some government agencies do by releasing vetted records through the National Archives and Records Administration? By doing so, media companies would be able to contribute to the scholarship that encourages interest in their current and back catalogs while protecting themselves through an extensive legal review of all “de-classified” documents released to archives. With some information already publicly available, illegal data dumps might be far less newsworthy.

Sony Hack and Actors Pay

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News report on Sony hack

from Sony hack leaks employee, actor pay (2014)
Creator: Thanh Nien News NewsVietnam.org
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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