A Manhattan, Ill., resident named in a Hollywood Reporter article about the 2014 Sony hacking scandal won’t be able to pursue her case after a federal judge granted the magazine’s motion for judgment in a Dec. 7 ruling.
Nicole Basile had filed suit against Prometheus Global Media, which publishes Hollywood Reporter, and journalists Gregg Kilday and Tatiana Siegel, who shared a byline on the Dec. 12, 2014, article headlined “Sony Hack: Studio Security Points to Inside Job.”
Basile said the report, published Dec. 3 on the Hollywood Reporter website, said she “was one of the hackers responsible for the infamous cyberattack on Sony.” The larger purpose of the article was to disprove the notion the hack was linked to North Korea as a response to Columbia Pictures’ controversial film, “The Interview.” The film revolved around an assassination plot targeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.
Kilday and Siegel were tossed from the legal action in May 2016.
In arguing for summary judgment, Prometheus suggested the “allegedly defamatory statements can be given an innocent construction,” according to Judge John Z. Lee’s memorandum opinion and order, and further asserted a California anti-strategic lawsuit against public participation statute warranted dismissal.
Basile’s complaint noted she was never formally a Sony employee; said the article did not point out the hackers used several other aliases — including people like author Michael Lewis and Lesley Goldberg, a Hollywood Reporter journalist — and; said Kilday and Siegel did not make reasonable efforts to contact her before the article was published.
Lee wrote the magazine didn’t say “Basile had committed any criminal acts or the cyberattack. Rather, the article notes only that Basile’s name was used in conjunction with an email that was sent to the media informing them of the cyberattack. In fact, the article recognizes that the identity of the actual perpetrators are unknown, calling the incident ‘a chilling Hollywood whodunit.’ Furthermore, given the prevalence of email hacking, the article was careful to indicate that the perpetrators had used an email account ‘from a sender named Nicole Basile’; it did not claim that Basile was the one who actually sent the email in question.”
Lee also quoted a passage from the article that explained the number of people who could have had a motive for hacking: “For a studio — which has laid off hundreds of employees over the past year in an effort to contain costs — the possibility of a disgruntled employee wreaking havoc is very real.”
Basile’s defamation claim also fails, Lee wrote, because “nothing in the article disparages her skills as a production accountant or accuses her of being unable to perform the specific duties of a production accountant.” Likewise, computer security was not part of her Sony job. In explaining his logic supporting the innocent construction clause, Lee details how the article’s “statements about Basile may be reasonably viewed as part of the investigation into the cyberattack, including the potential that hackers may have commandeered internal Sony email accounts.”
Lee quickly addressed Basile’s false light claim, but said false light claims based on statements that allegedly constitute defamation per se are failed whenever the defamation claim fails. As Lee had already sided with Prometheus, he didn’t need to offer distinct consideration to Basile’s false light argument.
In her original complaint, Basile estimated lost earnings owing to the article would exceed $1.4 million. She also said a doctor told her severe abdominal pains — which led to surgery in search of a serious internal problem — had no root physical issue and “were almost certainly caused by stress, and the cause of her stress was the article and its consequences for her life.”
Basile’s attorneys were Alexander Rufus-Isaacs, of Rufus-Isaacs, Acland & Grantham, Beverly Hills, Calif.; Rodney A. Smolla, of Wilmington, Del.; and Ian Brenson, of La Grange.
Prometheus Global Media was represented by the firm of Cozen O’Connor, with offices in Chicago and Los Angeles.