Quantic Dream, creators of “so bad, they’re bad” games like Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human, recently brought libel action against two French newspapers which had jointly published allegations of misconduct against individuals at the company back in 2018. Now the court has ruled both for and against the developer, seemingly on the same basis.
On September 9th, despite some extremely strange public behavior, Quantic Dream won its libel suit against French newspaper, Le Monde. However, it also lost its other libel suit against another French publication, Mediapart. This is particularly odd given that the pieces in question were a collaboration between Le Monde, Mediapart, and Canard PC. All three stories regarding alleged abuses at Quantic Dream were published at the same time, based on collaborative reporting. Quantic Dream sued Le Monde and Mediapart, but not Canard PC.
In 2018 Le Monde, Mediapart, and Canard PC each published pieces alleging various abuses at Heavy Rain developer Quantic Dream. These included allegations of widespread sexual harassment, severe crunch, racist remarks by executives (including studio founder David Cage himself), and the existence of a bunch of really weird and uncomfortable photoshops of employees. Quantic Dream responded to these allegations by stamping its feet and filing libel suits, claiming the allegations were totally baseless attacks.
Mediapart won the suit against the developer by proving its good faith reporting practices. This means that the claims against Quantic Dreams reported by Mediapart, and its reporting practices, have now been verified in a court of law, which is a very bad look for a company trying to clear itself of allegations of wrongdoing.
The court decided that Le Monde, on the other hand, had failed to meet the burden of proof, which French union publication Solidaires Informatiques argues was caused by Le Monde’s unwillingness to disclose anonymous sources to the court.
Establishing truth in French libel cases can be notoriously difficult. You have to prove not only that what you’re saying is true, but that you had all of the relevant evidence at time of publication. All of this burden falls upon the defendant. In refusing to disclose its sources to the court, Le Monde may have been unable to prove that the information was verifiably sourced, even if it was true.
This is all to say that practicing basic journalistic ethics could have resulted in the publication being found guilty of libel. This is not that uncommon. Relying on anonymous sourcing, despite its ability to break incredibly important stories such as the misconduct at Quantic Dream, has its risks, and vulnerability to libel suits can be one of them.
It is, however, important to put this loss into context. The allegations against Quantic Dream have not been proven untrue. Le Monde seemingly lost as a matter of procedure. In fact, Mediapart’s successful defense only lends credence to the allegations against Quantic Dream.
Additionally, the French courts are built on the law as written, not on precedence, as in the U.S. and UK. In the United States, higher-court rulings set the standard for future proceedings, which is not the case in France. Instead, judges act almost solely on the letter of the law. This doesn’t mean precedent has zero influence on later rulings, but that its effect is far more limited. This loss, thankfully, does not lay the legal groundwork for future harassment of journalists, although it may embolden other corporations to file libel suits.