Sony agrees to settle suit over fake critic

Sony Pictures Entertainment has agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit brought by movie-goers who said they were duped into seeing films by fake reviews company executives had planted in advertisements, an informed source said Thursday.

Sony, the film and television unit of Japanese Electronics maker Sony Corp., has agreed to pay $1.5 million into a fund to settle the case, said the source, who has knowledge of the settlement talks.

The payout could amount to about $5 per participant in the class action, and any remaining money would be donated to charity, the source added.

Sony Pictures declined to comment.

The suit was filed in June 2001 by Omar Rezec of Los Angeles and Ann Belknap of Sierra Madre, California, who claimed they were duped into seeing the film, “A Knight’s Tale,” based on a bogus review by a fake critic, named David Manning.

Manning was dreamed up by a Sony Pictures advertising executive as a reviewer for a Connecticut newspaper. Sony then placed glowing reviews by the fictitious Manning in advertisements for its movies.

When the ruse was exposed by Newsweek magazine, it proved to be a major embarrassment for the studio. Sony investigated, and later rebuked and suspended two executives.