Harry Shearer Sues Vivendi Over 'This Is Spinal Tap' Film, Music, Merchandise Earnings
October 18, 2016 at 6:02 AM (PT)
HARRY SHEARER is taking on VIVENDI S.A. in a lawsuit over earnings from "THIS IS SPINAL TAP," the classic 1984 "mockumentary" film. SHEARER, the voice of many characters on "THE SIMPSONS" who played bassist Derek Smalls in the movie and co-wrote the songs on the soundtrack, filed suit against the French media conglomerate and parent of STUDIOCANAL and UNIVERSAL MUSIC GROUP and executive RON HALPERN in LOS ANGELES, alleging anti-competitive and unfair business practices and fraudulent accounting.
The suit, seeking $125 million in compensatory and punitive damages, noting that while the film and soundtrack earned millions for VIVENDI, the company claimed that the share owed to SHEARER and co-creators/actors CHRISTOPHER GUEST, MICHAEL MCKEAN, and ROB REINER for 1984-2001 amounted to $81, and total income for sales of the soundtrack between 1989 and 2006 was reported at $98. REINER, SHEARER, GUEST, and MCKEAN's 1982 deal with EMBASSY PICTURES to make the film offered them 40% of net receipts from all sources of revenue; the movie was made on a $2.25 million budget and grossed many times more over the years from box office, video sales, merchandise sales, and music sales.
SHEARER says that VIVENDI has not offered any account of revenue in the last two years; in a study commissioned by SHEARER in 2013, he alleges that the company assigned "millions of dollars in undocumented marketing and promotional expenses" to the movie despite it being decades after its release, including undocumented charges for "freight and other direct costs," and notes that VIVENDI claimed it took 27 years to recoup expenses for the low-budget movie and that no merchandise revenue has been generated for over 20 years. But he also says that STUDIOCANAL has abandoned trademark registrations for the SPINAL TAP intellectual property while still claiming rights against REINER, SHEARER, GUEST, and MCKEAN if they want to use the band and character names; SHEARER has filed for the trademarks for "SPINAL TAP" and "Derek Smalls."
“Almost 40 years ago, CHRISTOPHER GUEST, MICHAEL MCKEAN, ROB REINER and I created the somewhat legendary band SPINAL TAP,” said SHEARER. “We thought there was something real and really funny about the characters, and between that inception and the theatrical release of THIS IS SPINAL TAP in 1984, we poured ourselves into nurturing and perfecting the paean to rock loudness that has entertained so many people, even today. But despite the widespread success of the film and its music, we’ve fallen victim to the same sort of fuzzy and falsified entertainment industry accounting schemes that have bedeviled so many other creators. In this instance, the fraud and negligence were just too egregious to ignore. Also, this time, it was personal.”
“This is a simple issue of artists’ rights,” added SHEARER. “It is stunning that after all this time, two cinema releases, all the various home video format releases, all the records and CDs, and all the band-themed merchandise still widely available worldwide, the only people who haven’t shared SPINAL TAP’s success are those who formed the band and created the film in the first place.
“VIVENDI and its subsidiaries – which own the rights to thousands and thousands of creative works – have, at least in our case, conducted blatantly unfair business practices. But I wouldn’t be surprised if our example were the tip of the iceberg. Though I’ve launched this lawsuit on my own, it is in reality a challenge to the company on behalf of all creators of popular films whose talent has not been fairly remunerated. I am just one person seeking redress for blatant injustice, but I hope this lawsuit will, in its own way, help set a new precedent for faithful and transparent accounting practices, and fair artistic compensation, industry-wide.”
SHEARER has posted the suit and more information at a website, fairnessrocks.com.