•The film company distributing "The Fourth Kind" has agreed to pay $22,500 to the Alaska Press Cub and a Calista Scholarship Fund because it created fake news articles and claimed they were written by Alaska journalists.
It also used some real news stories without authorization.
A legal agreement released today between seven Alaska newspaper companies and Universal Studios says that the company "created a number of Web sites purporting to be 'news archives.''
Some of the stories on the sites were genuine, while others were phony. The goal was to fool Internet users into thinking that the characters described in "The Fourth Kind" are real people, which they are not.
The agreement is the first official admission by the company that its "viral internet marketing" included the fabrication of news stories and attributing them to the Nome Nugget, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, the Anchorage Chronicle and other publications. In addition, the company included real news articles without permission.
To settle the dispute, Universal also agreed to disable Web sites it set up to promote the claims that the movie about alien abductions in Nome, was true.
Under terms of the deal, the Alaska Press Club is to receive $20,000, while the Calista Scholarship Fund is to receive $2,500. The press club is an independent organization of journalists from across the state.
"Universal agrees to the permanent disabling and removal of, and represents and warrants that it has already permanently disabled access to and removed from the Internet, all news articles," the settlement says.
The studio says that if it is notified that any of the phony news stories become available in the future, it "shall take appropriate steps to see that they are removed from the Internet. . ."
But in some ways this is an empty promise. I found the two fake stories attributed to the News-Miner on sites where they had been copied. Universal won't be able to take those down. There are also cached pages that were available earlier this week.
When I wrote here the other day about the disabling of the phony news sites, I said that perhaps the news coverage in the Anchorage Daily News Sept. 1 led to that action, but it turns out that the Nome Nugget and other newspapers had been working behind the scenes on a settlement.
One of the most striking aspects of this story is that the company regarded the creation of phony news stories and the use of news stories without authorization as acceptable marketing practices. The studio is a wholly owned subsidiary of NBC Universal, which owns NBC News.