General News

Phony Oscar Leak Could Spur Lawsuit

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Mar 19, 2001 | 11:50am EST

A movie-rumor Web site that posted a purported list of Oscar nominations before they were officially announced -- and which later proved to be largely inaccurate -- could face a lawsuit for interfering with the rigid security surrounding the Academy Awards.

It was not immediately clear against whom the Academy was mulling legal action, but Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences spokesman John Pavlik told Reuters: "I think that if, in fact, something comes along that shows laws were broken, we will take action against whoever broke them. This is a serious kind of thing for us. We don't like the suggestion that our secrecy can be violated."

The Academy also said today it had solved the mystery as to where the phony Oscars list, which appeared Monday on the popular Ain't It Cool News Website (www.aint-it-cool-news.com), came from. The Academy traced the list to a free-lancer who was compiling names of potential Oscar nominees for ABC.com (http://abc.go.com), and who apparently sent the information to Ain't It Cool's webmaster, movie critic Harry Knowles.

If the person who obtained the information "had to go through security barriers" to get access to the site, then laws may have been broken, Pavlik said.

Knowles could not be reached immediately for comment today. Nor did the Academy return calls for clarification.

Knowles originally claimed that the list was a preliminary Academy ballot that contained eight finalists for Oscar nominations in 17 categories. In posting the list on Monday, he said the list would be cut down to the official five nominations the following morning. On Tuesday, a conciliatory Knowles told Hollywood.com he got the list from one of his field agents, who always remain anonymous on his site through the use of pseudonyms.

However, when the nominees were announced on Tuesday, there were many names that never appeared on Knowles' list -- a list later denounced by Academy president Robert Rehme as "bogus." Knowles subsequently posted an explanation for the error on his Web site, saying he obtained the list from a site on the Academy's Web server and assumed it was official. He said no hacking techniques had been deployed to access the information. Both the original list, and Knowles' subsequent explanation, have since vanished from the Ain't It Cool site.

"The list printed by Knowles, which he claimed was an official voting list, was in fact part of a list of guesses made by ABC.com staff in preparation for going online with the actual nominations at 5:38 a.m. Tuesday morning," Ric Robertson, another Academy spokesman, told Reuters.

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