The creators of cult comedy film ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ have been given permission to go ahead with their legal battle with Universal Music owner Vivendi – but three of them need to re-file their claim in their own name instead of those of their respective companies.
The film’s stars Harry Shearer (bassist Derek Smalls), Christopher Guest (guitarist Nigel Tufnel), Michael McKean (David St. Hubbins) and director Rob Reiner have accused the entertainment giant of giving misleading financial information about the film and its associated merchandise. This, they argue, has left them light of pocket from a profit share deal they had in place with the movie’s original producer. They are seeking $400m in damages.
The quartet claims that Vivendi "wilfully manipulated certain accounting data, while ignoring contractually-obligated accounting and reporting processes, to deny [the] co-creators their rightful stake in the production's profits".
Vivendi has dismissed the litigation as “absurd”. Judge Dolly Gee seemed to support this position, at least to an extent, by ruling that the quartet hadn’t provided enough evidence for their claim saying that they had "vaguely alleged the elements of a fraud claim, they have failed to plead sufficient facts." These claims can still be amended to strengthen the quartet’s case.
Gee also dismissed the cases made by Shearer, McKean and Reiner because they’d been made though their companies and not as individuals. They will now proceed with just their names on the claim.
The group’s legal rep welcomed the ruling and said: "The court has invited us to amend our complaint to clarify the individual rights of each of the co-creators, and we will do so promptly. We will also be adding further facts to highlight Vivendi's history of fraud in this case, and to address equally important issues of copyright reversion and so-called 'works for hire'.”
Harry Shearer said: ”Vivendi thought we would be made to go away. Well, not today, not tomorrow, nor the next day. England's loudest band will be heard. But today is a good day not just for us, but for all aggrieved creative artists.”
Christopher Guest added: "We're doing the right thing, and most importantly, we are setting a precedent for similarly aggrieved artists who can't afford to do this themselves. We're sending a message not just to Vivendi, but to the so-called Hollywood accounting cabal as a whole: treat creators from the outset with genuine fairness and respect.”
Originally released in 1984, This Is Spinal Tap is widely regarded as one of funniest movies ever made. Following the misadventures of an aging heavy metal band, it pioneered the mock-documentary format that set the agenda for 21st century comedy and remains an accurate depiction of the music industry.