Spinal Tap co-creators join Harry Shearer’s $400 million Vivendi lawsuit
By Chris Cooke | Published on Wednesday 8 February 2017
All four of the co-creators of ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ are now suing Vivendi. They allege that the Universal Music owner has failed to properly report on revenues generated by the cult movie, its soundtrack and related merchandise, and has underpaid royalties due to the co-creators via their agreement with the film’s original producer Embassy Pictures.
As previously reported, one of the four men behind ‘This Is Spinal Tap’, Harry Shearer, went legal last October. His lawsuit primarily targets Paris-based Vivendi’s movie business StudioCanal, which acquired the rights in the 1984 film five years after its release. Though Universal Music also controls the soundtrack and the legal filing alleges that “accounting between the Vivendi subsidiaries is not at arms-length, is anti-competitive and deprives the ‘TIST’ creators of a fair reward for their services”.
This morning it was announced that Shearer’s collaborators on ‘Spinal Tap’ – Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Rob Reiner – were all joining the litigation, alongside their joint venture business Spinal Tap Productions. Guest, McKean and Shearer all starred in the spoof rockumentary as members of the Spinal Tap band – respectively playing guitarist Nigel Tufnel, lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist David St Hubbins and bassist Derek Smalls – while Reiner directed the film and appeared as its narrator.
When announcing the lawsuit last October, reps for Shearer alleged that Vivendi, which had “generated millions of dollars” from ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ over the years, had “wilfully manipulated certain accounting data, while ignoring contractually-obligated accounting and reporting processes, to deny Shearer and his fellow co-creators their rightful stake in the production’s profits”.
Shearer’s lawsuit claimed that – despite the millions generated by the movie, its soundtrack and an assortment of merch as the film franchise gained its cult status – the entertainment conglom “asserts that the four creators’ share of total worldwide merchandising income between 1984 and 2006 was $81. Between 1989 and 2006, total income from soundtrack music sales was reported by Vivendi as $98”. This despite the four co-creators’ deal with Embassy that collectively gave them 40% of ‘Spinal Tap’ profits.
Confirming that he was joining Shearer’s legal action against Vivendi, Guest said this morning: “The deliberate obfuscation by Vivendi and its subsidiaries is an outrage. It is vital that such behaviour is challenged in the strongest way possible”.
Meanwhile Reiner added: “Fair reward for artistic endeavour has long been raised by those on the wrong end of the equation. What makes this case so egregious is the prolonged and deliberate concealment of profit and the purposeful manipulation of revenue allocation between various Vivendi subsidiaries – to the detriment of the creative talent behind the band and film. Such anti-competitive practices need to be exposed”.
Meanwhile, McKean stated: “‘This Is Spinal Tap’ was the result of four very stubborn guys working very hard to create something new under the sun. The movie’s influence on the last three decades of film comedy is something we are very proud of. But the buck always stopped somewhere short of Rob, Harry, Chris and myself. It’s time for a reckoning. It’s only right”.
Welcoming his co-creators’ decision to back his litigation, Shearer concluded: “Their participation will help demonstrate the opaque and misleading conduct at the heart of this case. We’re even louder now”.
Shearer’s original lawsuit had been seeking $125 million in compensatory and punitive damages, but with all four ‘Spinal Tap’ men now on board the damages sought have risen to a slightly mind-boggling $400 million.