On Sunday, a lawyer from Sony Pictures Entertainment sent a strongly-worded letter to news organizations, including The New York Times and Hollywood Reporter, demanding that they not report on the vast quantity of data in the Sony leak.

The letter says: “We are writing to ensure that you are aware that [Sony] does not consent to your possession, review, copying, dissemination, publication, uploading, downloading, or making any use of the Stolen Information, and to request your cooperation in destroying the Stolen Information.”

It goes on to demand that news organizations that possess the leaked data tell Sony about it, prevent employees and contractors from making any use of it, “arrange for and supervise the destruction” of the data, and “confirm that such destruction has been completed.”

The letter ends with a threat: “If you do not comply with this request, and the Stolen Information is used or disseminated by you in any manner, [Sony] will have no choice but to hold you responsible for any damage or loss” related to publishing their data.

Sony should realize that journalists are completely within their legal rights to report on documents that are illegally obtained as long as the journalists themselves don’t break laws to obtain them.

The 2001 Supreme Court case Bartnicki v. Vopper found that: “A broadcaster cannot be held civilly liable for publishing documents or tapes illegally procured by a third-party.” Perhaps Sony’s lawyers should look it up.

While the legality of reporting on the Sony data is firmly decided, the ethics of it are another matter. One thing that’s certain, though, is that legal threats from Sony won’t be able to rein in this massive trove of data, now that it’s out.

Photo: Nick Ut/AP