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Spinal Tap welcome latest ruling in Vivendi dispute

By | Published on Wednesday 29 August 2018

This Is Spinal Tap

Harry Shearer has welcomed the latest development in the ongoing legal battle over the rights in and royalties generated by the ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ movie and soundtrack. A judge has given the all-clear for the core case against entertainment conglom Vivendi to proceed, although much of the case against its music subsidiary Universal Music will need to be re-filed.

The creators of the cult movie – Shearer, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Rob Reiner – all accuse Vivendi of misreporting financial information about the film and its spin offs in order to under-pay them royalties due from the franchise. The company controls the ‘Spinal Tap’ movie via its StudioCanal business and the soundtrack via Universal. The four creators had a profit-share arrangement with the original producer.

There are various elements to the case. These include allegations of both breach of contract and fraud on the part of the entertainment companies. Also, there is an attempt by Shearer et al to reclaim various rights in the ‘Spinal Tap’ franchise under the so called termination right in US copyright law. Vivendi has called the four men’s claims of dodgy dealing “absurd”, while also arguing that the termination right doesn’t apply to the ‘Spinal Tap’ movie or its soundtrack because they were created on a ‘work for hire’ basis.

The case has already been through a lot of back and forth, with Universal Music being added as a defendant in its own right last October. In the latest court hearing, the major label sought to have itself removed from the litigation. In part it argued that neither it nor any of its predecessor companies were party to a specific 1982 contract that is at the heart of the case.

Judge Dolly M Gee was sympathetic to that argument, although also acknowledged that the plaintiffs had presented other theories in a bid to prove the music firm’s liabilities. Nevertheless, Gee dismissed all but the copyright termination element of the case against Universal. However, she told Shearer et al that they could resubmit new legal papers setting out a refined case against the major record company.

More importantly for the Spinal Tap camp, Gee knocked back concurrent efforts by Vivendi and StudioCanal to have the case dismissed entirely. Which means the core litigation, including the allegations of fraud, can now proceed.

Welcoming that ruling, Shearer said: “We are pleased with the decision in our ongoing litigation involving the film ‘This Is Spinal Tap,’ which allows all of our claims against Vivendi, StudioCanal and [StudioCanal exec] Ron Halpern, including the fraud claim, to proceed. We are also confident that we will adequately amend our claims against the defendant Universal Music, as specified by Judge Gee’s order, so we can move forward with those as well”.

He went on: “The court’s ruling makes clear that we can pursue damages both for breach of contract and fraud, including punitive damages, based on the defendants’ failure to properly account to us for our profits in connection with ‘This Is Spinal Tap.’ It is equally important that we can pursue our right to recapture our copyright interests and other intellectual property rights in connection with the Spinal Tap film and music, so that we can control our own creative product and benefit from it, as we should have all along”.

Speaking for all four of the Spinal Tap plaintiffs, Shearer concluded: “We look forward to finally getting our day in court, at a trial, with the evidence that to date Vivendi has tried to hide from us”.