A Los Angeles federal judge ruled that a lawsuit brought by actor-comedian Harry Shearer accusing Vivendi SA’s StudioCanal of manipulating earnings of the 1984 mockumentary “This is Spinal Tap” can proceed, according to court papers obtained Tuesday.
The suit seeks at least $400 million in damages for the film’s creators.
Shearer — known for voicing nearly two dozen characters on “The Simpsons” — co-created the cult hit that follows the exploits of the much-troubled fictional heavy metal group Spinal Tap, a band created by Shearer, Michael McKean and Christopher Guest. Shearer portrays the group’s bass player, Derek Smalls.
According to the 2016 lawsuit, the film and its music “have remained popular for more than 30 years, and have earned considerable sums for the French conglomerate Vivendi SA. But not for its creators.”
“Defendant Vivendi and its agents, including StudioCanal executive Ron Halpern, have engaged in anti-competitive business practices by manipulating accounting between Vivendi film and music subsidiaries and have engaged in fraud to deprive the Spinal Tap creators of a fair return for their work,” the complaint alleges.
The defendants responded with a motion to dismiss based partly on the contention that Shearer and his co-defendants never requested an audit of the film distributor’s records to determine whether participation statements comply with a contract.
U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee denied the motion last week, clearing the way for the lawsuit to proceed in Los Angeles federal court.
The lawsuit contends that despite two theatrical releases of the film and repeated re-selling of rights that earned profits for multiple companies, Vivendi insists that the total share of worldwide merchandising income for the film’s four creators — including director/narrator Rob Reiner — totaled $81 between 1984 and 2006, while total income from music sales from 1989 to 2006 was $98.
“Over the past two years, Vivendi has failed to provide accounting statements at all,” according to the suit.
The suit is seeking damages of at least $400 million. It also notes that Shearer is pursuing trademark applications to secure creative rights to the film and its music, and is seeking “a judicial declaration vindicating those rights, which have been abandoned by Vivendi.”
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