"Sony's a corporation. It suffered significant damage, there were threats against its employees," Obama said at his annual year-end news conference from the White House. "I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced. Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake."
He added that he wished "they'd spoken to me first," so he could tell them not to set a bad precedent by caving into hackers' threats. He explained that this could eventually lead to self-censorship if the media did not want to offend "somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended."
Read More North Korean cyberattack may cost Sony millions
"Let's not get into that way of doing business," the president said.
For its part, Sony Entertainment denied that it had caved, with CEO Michael Lynton telling CNN that "the President, the press, and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened."
"I don't know exactly whether [Obama] understands the sequence of events that led up to the movie not being shown in the movie theaters," Lynton told CNN after explaining that theaters had first declined to show the film. "Therefore I would disagree with the notion that it was a mistake."
Obama also emphasized in his Friday speech that the U.S. will retaliate in some way against North Korea—which the FBI fingered as the attacker earlier Friday.
"They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond. We will respond proportionately, and we will respond at a place and time and manner that we choose," he said.
The president declined to say if he had ruled out military force against North Korea, or if his administration was considering economic penalties. He did confirm, however, that U.S. investigators did not have any indication that the attack was coordinated with another country.
Still, Obama said that it "says something interesting about North Korea" that the country launched an assault because of "a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen and James Flacco [Franco]."