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Sony settles suit over fake critic

August 4, 2005

By Gregg Kilday

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – The brief but quotable
career of fictional film critic David Manning has officially
come to an end.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge last week signed off on
a settlement of a class-action suit that will see Sony Pictures
pay more than $1 million for luring moviegoers into buying
tickets based on the recommendations of Manning, an invention
of the studio’s marketing department.

The suit, filed in 2001, accused Sony of unfair business
practices, including the “intentional and systematic deception
of consumers,” by using fabricated quotes attributed to
Manning. Manning was identified as a critic for the Ridgefield
Press, a Connecticut publication, and his quotes in praise of
such films as “Hollow Man,” “Vertical Limit,” “A Knight’s Tale”
and “The Animal” appeared in studio ads and promotional
materials.

Attorney Norman Blumenthal, who represented the plaintiffs,
said the final settlement amounts to $1.5 million. However, a
preliminary settlement order, dated Dec. 15, 2004, approved a
court notice that announced a settlement fund of $750,000 plus
$500,000 in attorneys fees, for a total of $1.25 million.

Despite repeated calls, Blumenthal could not be reached for
further comment. Sony, which did not admit liability as part of
the settlement, declined comment.

Under terms of the agreement, moviegoers who bought tickets
to any of the four films between Aug. 3, 2000, and Oct. 31,
2001, could file a claim that could return them as much as $5
for each ticket purchased. Unclaimed portions of the settlement
fund are to be earmarked for charity.

In the wake of Manning’s unmasking in 2001, two Sony
executives were disciplined with 30-day suspensions without
pay.

The plaintiffs initially sought a $4.5 million fund. Sony
filed motions to block the suit, but a California Court of
Appeals decision last year rejected the studio’s claim that it
was exercising its right of free speech, saying the quotes
represented commercial speech not protected by the First
Amendment.

Reuters/VNU




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