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"This is Spinal Tap" Litigation Accelerates Towards Trial

Posted on the 03 December 2019 by Loup Dargent @loup_dargent

"This is Spinal Tap" Litigation Accelerates Towards Trial

Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Rob Reiner, the four co-creators of the iconic 1984 mockumentary film This is Spinal Tap (TIST), have set the stage for their trial with StudioCanal in Los Angeles, in the coming months.
According to the plaintiffs' complaint, Vivendi, through its agent StudioCanal, willfully manipulated certain accounting data, failed to protect the rights entrusted to it and ignored contractually-obligated accounting and reporting processes - all of which served to deny Shearer, and his fellow co-creators, their rightful stake in the production's profits. The action seeks hundreds of millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages, and a declaration that the co-creators own all copyright and trademark interests in the film property.
The four creators successfully overcame Vivendi's use of procedural methods in an attempt to dismiss and delay the case. After a year of mediation and informal exchange of information, the co-creators became frustrated by StudioCanal's continued delay and failure to acknowledge the co-creators' rights and their entitlement to past-due profits. StudioCanal's attitude demonstrates a fundamental failure to appreciate the duties expected of a film rights owner. StudioCanal's tactics have only served to harden the creators' determination to prevail.

  • The four are also warning other artists in profit-share agreements with rights-owners of the battles they face in receiving the fruits of their labors, despite a rightful entitlement.

On Nov. 5th, the plaintiffs announced the settlement of their claims against Vivendi's UMG regarding the film's soundtrack recordings. The ongoing case against Vivendi's StudioCanal is not affected by the UMG settlement.
The litigation against StudioCanal and senior executive Ron Halpern, now shifts to a pre-trial discovery phase. This gives the plaintiffs the right to seek full access to StudioCanal's internal books and records going back decades - since the creators first offered up for exploitation the independent film they had created. This allows the four artists to confirm what they have long suspected: that the defendants have, for more than two decades, deliberately shielded their corporate failings and accounting sleight of hand, and withheld accurate information relating to the revenues and profits generated by the film. The French company stood idly by while others made a killing from sales of merchandise inspired by the film and the much-beloved, faux heavy metal band it depicts.

"The past year has felt like being stuck in limbo. We're now back and unleashed, ready to burrow deep into StudioCanal's ledgers to see what commercial secrets and corporate failings they have concealed," said Harry Shearer, TIST co-creator and band bassist. "Their failed motions to dismiss, delay and obfuscate won't help the studio now we are able to dig up what they have been hiding all these years. We get to depose key figures, including top executives of StudioCanal and Vivendi, such as Mr. Ron Halpern. They reported that we were entitled to $81 between the four of us, for 35 years of merchandise sales. Even with the limited information we now have, it is clear that StudioCanal shielded millions of dollars in revenues from us and manipulated the accountings in their favor."
"It's been revelatory. We've been woefully underestimated by Studio Canal," said Christopher Guest, who played guitarist Nigel Tufnel. "They simply refused to acknowledge us or our concerns. In discussions over the recordings UMG 'got it' and throughout showed respect for talent, for intellectual property and the creative process. UMG's approach eventually brought about an amiable and equitable solution to our music claims. StudioCanal, however, has been dismissive to the point of contemptuous. "
"The stay in proceedings is now over," declared lead litigator Stanton "Larry" Stein. "We move with determination to the next phase, in which we will seek comprehensive discovery of StudioCanal's accounting procedures and licensing transactions. When my clients filed this case three years ago, they did so seeking equity, fair treatment and fealty to the contractual arrangement between the film's creators and the studio. What's extraordinary is the strength of the French studio's grip on the film's rights, having failed to properly guard, or exploit them over the past 35 years. We look forward to entering the discovery phase and bringing this case to trial. The creative industry in Hollywood will be closely watching this litigation as we go onwards to trial."
"This isn't just about the four of us – it never has been," said co-creator and TIST Director Rob Reiner. "The film was made on the thinnest of budgets. And so many creative people worked hard contributing their talents to a film that has stood the test of time. That's why we took on this fight. Not just for us, but for all hardworking artists who should get their fair share from their creative efforts."
"After all the delays we are closing in," said Michael McKean, lead singer and guitarist David St Hubbins in TIST. "StudioCanal has had three years to take our claims seriously – yet focused instead on trying to get rid of us. Now that they have failed to swat us away procedurally, we are about to expose their other legions of failings. Year after year, brand pirates have been left to run amok, as recently as last month taunting us via social media, while flooding the market with unauthorized Spinal Tap t-shirts and other products. StudioCanal had a duty to properly exploit film and image rights and collect revenues. They haven't, so we will. It is time to return this beloved film to its rightful owners."
This is Spinal Tap – produced independently on a shoestring budget, has become a cult classic since its first theatrical run, in 1984. The film has garnered international praise and acclaim, having been included in "best ever" lists such as The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made; Entertainment Weekly's 100 Greatest Movies of All Time where it appeared on the "Just Too Beloved to Ignore" list; and the 100 Greatest Movies of All Time list published by Total Film.
The band Spinal Tap, composed of Shearer, Guest and McKean, performing as their beloved stage personae in the company of a rotating cast of percussionists willing to risk the kit (as so many of their predecessors have been accident prone), has toured the world multiple times since the film's release. Hundreds of thousands of Spinal Tap sound recordings have been sold over the ensuing decades and the film has been released on scores of video formats down the years. 

Full-length Spinal Tap albums are still available for physical sale, download and streaming today from UMG, thanks to the plaintiffs having concluded a settlement with the label in a positive and constructive manner.

SOURCE: Harry Shearer

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