The coronavirus pandemic has slowed talks to resolve a dispute between the creators of “This Is Spinal Tap” and Vivendi SA, which owns the rights to the mockumentary, according to documents filed Friday in Los Angeles federal court.
Comedian-actor Harry Shearer sued the French conglomerate in 2016, accusing the company and its movie division StudioCanal of manipulating financial information about the cult film and its spinoffs in order to underpay royalties. His “Spinal Tap” co-creators, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Rob Reiner, subsequently joined as co-plaintiffs.
The suit seeks at least $400 million in damages for the film’s creators.
Because of the impact of the coronavirus throughout the world, it will likely require several additional weeks of discussions to determine if a resolution is possible, attorneys wrote in a joint status report.
“Communications with the insurance carrier and its counsel have been complicated by the fact that the applicable insurance policies are in French and require translation, the coverage issues are governed by foreign law, and the global COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted insurance carrier personnel located in European `hot spots,”’ according to the report.
Attorneys wrote that the sides have narrowed the issues down to the film rights and related intellectual property, “as well as a monetary payment.”
The parties have had nearly 10 telephonic settlement conferences with a Los Angeles federal magistrate judge over the past month, the latest on Wednesday, records show.
Shearer — known for voicing nearly two dozen characters on “The Simpsons” — co-created the 1984 cult hit that follows the exploits of the much-troubled fictional heavy metal group Spinal Tap. Shearer portrays the group’s bass player, Derek Smalls.
According to the suit, 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.”
The lawsuit states 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 Reiner — totaled $81 between 1984 and 2006, while total income from music sales from 1989 to 2006 was $98.
The plaintiffs settled their dispute with Universal Music over the soundtrack in November.