Sony to pay $1.5m for film hoax
SONY Pictures has been ordered to pay $1.5m (?1.2m) to settle a lawsuit filed by a couple who accused it of inventing a critic to lure them into watching films.
Praise from David Manning, supposedly a critic for the Ridgefield Press, of Connecticut, was quoted in adverts for Sony releases such as 'The Patriot', 'Hollow Man', 'Vertical Limit', 'The Animal' and 'A Knight's Tale'.
But after a Newsweek reporter researching an article on film promotion failed to find Manning, he was exposed as an invention of the studio's marketing department.
After the Newsweek article in June 2001, headed "The Reviewer Who Wasn't There", Sony disciplined two executives and promised to monitor its publicity more closely in future.
"We are horrified," Susan Tick, a Sony spokesman, said at the time. "It was an incredibly foolish decision. We will take appropriate action."
The lawsuit accused Sony of unfair business practices, including the "intentional and systematic deception of consumers" by using fabricated quotes attributed to Manning.
It was originally brought by two Californian film-goers, Omar Rezec and Ann Belknap, and termed a class, or group, action as it sought redress on behalf of film-goers nationwide who paid to see the films.
Mr Rezec and Ms Belknap said the adverts fooled them into seeing 'A Knight's Tale', a comedy loosely based on 'The Canterbury Tales' and starring Heath Ledger as a peasant who pretends to be a knight. In one advert, a critic identified as "David Manning of the Ridgefield Press" was quoted as calling Ledger "this year's hottest new star".
In a poster for 'The Animal', a comedy about a weakling transformed into a hero by organ transplants from animals, Manning was quoted as writing: "The producing team of 'Big Daddy' has delivered another winner!"
Manning also raved about 'Vertical Limit', a mountaineering action film, and 'The Patriot', a historical drama with Mel Gibson, describing them as "stupendous". It remains unclear why the quotes were fabricated, as some of the films praised had already received positive reviews from genuine critics.
Judgment in the case by Carolyn Kuhl, a Los Angeles superior court judge, was reached last month and made public yesterday by Norman Blumenthal, the film-goers' lawyer. (© Daily Telegraph, London)