Business News Labels & Publishers Legal

Spinal Tap litigation to proceed, though some new paperwork is required first 

By | Published on Monday 2 October 2017

This Is Spinal Tap

The legal battle between the four creators of ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ and Universal Music owner Vivendi has been given the green light to proceed, though three of them will need to re-file their litigation in their own name rather than that of their respective companies. This follows a court ruling last week in which the judge sided with Vivendi to an extent, but at the same time allowed much of the case to proceed, even if some new paperwork will be required.

As previously reported, Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Rob Reiner all accuse Vivendi – which controls the ‘Spinal Tap’ movie via its StudioCanal business and the soundtrack via Universal Music – of misreporting financial information about the cult film and its spin offs in order to short-change the four creators who had a profit-share arrangement with the original producer.

After Guest, McKean and Reiner all followed Shearer’s lead in suing the French entertainment conglomerate, the four men subsequently claimed 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”.

For its part, Vivendi has dubbed the ‘Spinal Tap’ litigation as “absurd” and sought to have the case dismissed. The entertainment giant did score some wins in last week’s ruling, in that the judge ruled that the ‘Spinal Tap’ creators had not provided enough evidence regarding their specific accusations of fraud. Judge Dolly Gee said that although the four men had “vaguely alleged the elements of a fraud claim, they have failed to plead sufficient facts”. However, the fraud claims can still be amended to overcome those weaknesses.

Meanwhile, Gee also dismissed the cases being pursued by Shearer, McKean and Reiner, but only because they had sued through the companies they use for their creative projects rather than as individuals. Guest filed his litigation in his own right and that case has been allowed to proceed. Shearer, McKean and Reiner are now expected to re-file their lawsuits without their company names on the paperwork.

This means, despite the set backs, the ‘Spinal Tap’ four saw last week’s ruling as a positive, in that the core of their case against Vivendi has been allowed to proceed. Indeed, legal rep Peter Haviland declared that “this ruling is an important victory”.

This optimism, Haviland said, was justified because, by refusing to dismiss his clients’ case against Vivendi out right, the judge had ratified “a critical contractual right for artists”. He went on: “Even in studio-drafted contracts containing a ‘No Third Party Beneficiary Clause’, artists may be determined by a court to be third party beneficiaries who have the right to sue for wrongdoing, notwithstanding such contractual clauses”.

Concluding, Haviland 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'”.

Welcoming the ruling, 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”.

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”.