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'Alone Yet Not Alone': Who's right in the Oscar song scandal?

One thing is clear about the revocation of a film's Oscar nomination: It almost never happens.

The nullification Tuesday night of an original song nomination for the composer and lyricist of "Alone Yet Not Alone" — an arrangement sung by a quadriplegic pastor in a faith-based movie of the same name — is only the fourth instance of an Oscar nomination being rescinded in the awards' 86-year history.

It is the first time an Oscar nomination has been rescinded from a full-length U.S. feature (the other instances involved shorts, docs or foreign films).

It is the first time in 22 years that it has happened before the ceremony. (When it last happened, to a short in 2011 because of a newly discovered airing on Norwegian television, the revocation took place in July, long after the nominee had a chance to walk the red carpet and long after most people stopped paying attention.)

PHOTOS: Movie scenes from 'Alone Yet Not Alone'

And it is the first time an Oscar nomination has been revoked due to improper campaigning. The other instances were due to technical reasons of eligibility, while previous campaign violations, such as for producers of "The Hurt Locker" or "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," merely resulted in the confiscation of tickets. The first time. Ever.

Everything else about the case? That's murkier.

On the one hand, you can see the argument that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' governors, who voted to rescind, were following. One of the two nominees for original song, music composer Bruce Broughton, was personally reaching out to voters to stir up interest in his contender from among the dozens of songs on a CD sent to voters.

If he used his status — Broughton is on the branch's executive committee and is a former member of the academy's board of governors — to gain attention, one could argue that his nomination came about because of an unfair edge. If nothing else, the fact that he had access to emails is something a less-plugged-in contender wouldn’t have had, the academy could point out.

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On the other hand, if in fact he just asked voters to check out his song, as one does in Oscar season, implicitly or explicitly, via the numerous ads, academy screenings and other events that pepper this town this time of year, then, he could argue, what was he doing that was so different? Broughton can't help that he's on the branch's executive committee, and as long as he wasn't using his status to gin up interest — and at least one email in question no mention is made of his position — then what did he do wrong?

The governors also seemed to be making a distinction between Broughton himself making the entreaty instead of an interlocutor; as academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs noted in a statement, "using one’s position as a former governor and current executive committee member to personally promote one’s own Oscar submission creates the appearance of an unfair advantage."

If so, Broughton could argue that this amounts to a de facto punishment of the little guy, since other nominees, such as "Despicable Me 2" or "Mandela" or "Frozen" or "Her," all sprung from well-funded campaigns that don't need any personal appeals because they can afford a team of consultants to do it for them. (Of course Broughton could have simply just had his publicist do it and made this a lot simpler.)

Reports that an "Alone Yet Not Alone" rival had, in the wake of the nomination, hired a private investigator to gather evidence against the nominee bolsters Broughton's claim that he was being singled out by some because of his underdog status.

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The academy's actions can't be taken in a vacuum. The group made this decision on the heels of years of campaigns-run-amok challenges, and only sporadically successful efforts to crack down. (The latest has involved the limiting of splashy catered affairs for contenders.)

This bit of campaigning, the group felt, was a bridge too far, and action needed to be taken. Others were watching closely, and among other things, it didn't look good that this nomination could stand — as Boone Isaacs said, "the appearance of an unfair advantage.”

Of course the image issue cuts the other way. The academy is acting to deter future campaigners, but in the process it is also sending a signal, and signals can be misinterpreted. It may not be long before outlets with a Hollywood-skeptical bent begin making hay of the fact that the academy has never rescinded a nomination due to improper campaigning until a faith-based movie with a quadriplegic pastor came along.

The ultimate effect of all this is unclear. It's unlikely the voters will change their decision, and it's equally unlikely that Broughton will back down. He already has begun making the TV rounds questioning why the academy has singled him out. As he told my colleague Glenn Whipp on Wednesday night. "I’m getting something taken away when studios have been skirting the edges of proper behavior for months." The question of whether the film will have its name called out on Mar. 2 has been answered. Other ambiguities remain, well, ambiguous.

And finally, there's this question: When "Alone Yet Not Alone" gets a wider release this spring, can it claim that it was an Oscar nominee?

ALSO:

In shocker, 'alone Yet Not Alone' Oscar nomination revoked

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Follow me on Twitter at @ZeitchikLAT

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