Spinal Tap bandmates reunite to join lawsuit over film's profits

Spinal Tap have reunited — this time in a Los Angeles court to challenge the French studio Vivendi S.A. for millions in profits from the classic mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap.

Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Rob Reiner joined a federal lawsuit on Tuesday filed by bandmate and Spinal Tap co-creator Harry Shearer.

Harry, who also voices numerous characters on The Simpsons, sued Vivendi S.A. and its subsidiary StudioCanal in October, alleging the companies fraudulently withheld profits and the rights to the characters from the 1984 film. Rob directed and narrated the classic satire of a fictional British rock band on the decline, whose hits included the songs Sex Farm and Stonehenge.

Harry Shearer (Yui Mok/PA)

Christopher and Michael have teamed up on other satire films, including Best In Show and A Mighty Wind, in which they were joined by Harry.

“What makes this case so egregious is the prolonged and deliberate concealment of profit and the purposeful manipulation of revenue allocation between various Vivendi subsidiaries – to the detriment of the creative talent behind the band and film,” Rob wrote in a statement. “Such anti-competitive practices need to be exposed.

“I am hoping this lawsuit goes to 11,” he wrote, borrowing a line from the film.

“This Is Spinal Tap was the result of four very stubborn guys working very hard to create something new under the sun,” Michael wrote in a statement. “The movie’s influence on the last three decades of film comedy is something we are very proud of. But the buck always stopped somewhere short of Rob, Harry, Chris and myself. It’s time for a reckoning. It’s only right.”

Vivendi declined to comment, citing a policy against discussing pending litigation.

The lawsuit also seeks certain rights to the film, including trademarks on the band’s name and the name of Harry’s character, Derek Smalls.

His lawsuit initially sought $125 million (£99.7 million) in damages, but the amended complaint seeks $400 million (£319 million). A jury would determine the amount of any judgment.

Spinal Tap (Yui Mok/PA)

The four co-creators have been told that their share of Spinal Tap profits were $81 (£66) in merchandise profits between 1984 and 2013, and $98 (£78) in music royalties for the same years, the lawsuit states. It contends Vivendi hasn’t produced detailed figures since 2013.

The film earned $4.5 million (£3.6 million) in theatres when it was released, and its re-release earned $193,000 (£153,898), according to figures from box office analysis firm comScore.

Those figures do not take into account money the film earned on the home video market, which would include VHS tapes, DVDs, Blu-Ray and its airings on television and cable.


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