Nine months after Sony Pictures was exposed for fabricating favourable reviews for its movie adverts, the studio came in for a critical drubbing yesterday from the legal authorities in Connecticut. After months of negotiations, the studio agreed to pay the state $326,000 (£230,000) in compensation for its unauthorised use of a small Connecticut weekly newspaper as a source of concocted movie blurbs.
"These deceptive ads deserve two thumbs-down," was the verdict of Connecticut's attorney general, Richard Blumenthal. "What Sony did was like having a chef pose as a food critic and then give his own restaurant four stars," James Fleming, the state's consumer protection commissioner said.
In the middle of last year, Sony repeatedly quoted a certain David Manning of the Ridgefield Press in Connecticut. He described Heath Ledger in A Knight's Tale as "this year's hottest new star!" Of Hollow Man, starring Kevin Bacon, he wrote: "One helluva scary ride! The summer's best special effects."
Although there is a Ridgefield Press, it has no film critic called David Manning, and was consulted about the quotations. The director of creative advertising at Sony, who was suspended for a month for his activities along with his direct superior, invented the quotes and came up with the name in honour of a college friend who worked in medical equipment marketing.
The mini-scandal, exposed by chance by a Newsweek reporter investigating promotional blurb, cast light on a number of questionable studio practices. Sony was one of a number of film companies subsequently caught using employees to promote films in audience-reaction video clips.
In Los Angeles, two film-goers were angry enough to file a class action suit against Sony, alleging intentional deception. That case is still pending.