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Sony blames theater owners for move to pull "The Interview"

Sony Pictures wasted no time responding to an unusually blunt critique by the White House of its decision to cancel the commercial release of "The Interview."

President Obama said Friday that Sony Pictures, a unit of Japanese electronics giant Sony Corp. (SNE), "made a mistake" choosing not to distribute the film to theaters following cyber attacks from North Korea. While acknowledging the damage to Sony Pictures from the intrusions, Obama said it was important not to capitulate to threats.

"We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States," he said.

Chilling effect feared in wake of Sony's cancellation of "The Interview"

After Mr.Obama's remarks, Sony Pictures said that it halted the planned Dec. 25 release because most U.S. theater owners indicated they would not screen the film.

"Let us be clear -- the only decision that we have made with respect to release of the film was not to release it on Christmas Day in theaters, after the theater owners declined to show it," the company said in a statement. "Without theaters, we could not release it in the theaters on Christmas Day. We had no choice."

Richard Walter, a professor in the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, and a prominent film industry expert, said he doesn't buy Sony's defense.

"I'll tell you two things. One: Sony had no choice. They had to do this. Two: I am the Prince of Wales," said Walter. "It's nonsense. Not only are they making a cowardly choice but they're too cowardly to own up to the fact that it's their choice."

Walter added that while the theater owners share the blame, it was Sony that ultimately made what he called a "shameful" decision.

"There will be several theaters I'm sure that will accept the movie, he said. "They should release it even if it's just four theaters."

In its statement, Sony Pictures said it is "strongly committed to the First Amendment" and that "free expression should never be suppressed by threats and extortion."

Sony on Wednesday canceled its planned release of The Interview, a comedy starring James Franco and Seth Rogen as a TV host and producer recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. That came after hackers who the FBI says are tied to North Korea breached the studio's computer systems and released private emails and other information, as well as threatened employees and moviegoers.

A number of prominent Hollywood figures, including director Judd Apatow and actor Steve Carell, have publicly objected to Sony pulling the movie.

Sony seemed today to modify its statement earlier this week that it had no plans to release the film. The studio said Friday that, after initially deciding to cancel the release, it "immediately began" exploring other ways to show The Interview on a different platform. "It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so," the company said.

Alain Sherter

Alain Sherter covers business and economic affairs for CBSNews.com.

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