1984 mockumentary This is Spinal Tap is required viewing for anyone into comedy or wanting to start a band. The Rob Reiner-directed film about the waning days of a hapless heavy metal band is hysterical and much of it still holds true today. The film’s stars, Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest, and Michael McKean co-created the film and also wrote and played all of the music on the soundtrack. But now Shearer, who you may also know as Derek Smalls from the film or as pretty much everyone from The Simpsons, is suing Vivendi Studios in a lawsuit filed yesterday claiming that he’s been denied profits from the film.
How much money was he denied? The lawsuit alleges that he and the co-creators made just $81 in merchandising income between 1984 and 2006, with the soundtrack netting them only $98 between 1989 and 2006. That’s preposterous. And that’s not even what they each made, that’s total. Additionally, the suit says that Vivendi hasn’t produced an account of any revenue from the film in over two years. Here’s what Shearer says about the suit on Fairnessrocks.com, a website he set up about the suit:
“Almost 40 years ago, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Rob Reiner, and I created the somewhat legendary band Spinal Tap,” said Shearer. “We thought there was something real and really funny about the characters, and between that inception and the theatrical release of This Is Spinal Tap in 1984, we poured ourselves into nurturing and perfecting the paean to rock loudness that has entertained so many people, even today. But despite the widespread success of the film and its music, we’ve fallen victim to the same sort of fuzzy and falsified entertainment industry accounting schemes that have bedevilled so many other creators. In this instance, the fraud and negligence were just too egregious to ignore. Also, this time, it was personal.”
“This is a simple issue of artists’ rights,” added Shearer. “It is stunning that after all this time, two cinema releases, all the various home video format releases, all the records and CDs, and all the band-themed merchandise still widely available worldwide, the only people who haven’t shared Spinal Tap’s success are those who formed the band and created the film in the first place.”
“Vivendi and its subsidiaries – which own the rights to thousands and thousands of creative works – have, at least in our case, conducted blatantly unfair business practices,” Shearer continued. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if our example were the tip of the iceberg. Though I’ve launched this lawsuit on my own, it is in reality a challenge to the company on behalf of all creators of popular films whose talent has not been fairly remunerated. I am just one person seeking redress for blatant injustice, but I hope this lawsuit will, in its own way, help set a new precedent for faithful and transparent accounting practices, and fair artistic compensation, industry-wide.”
It’s not that surprising that the movie industry might employ some of the same shady business tactics that the music industry has, but thankfully Shearer has the money to fight it. The suit is seeking over $125 million in damages.
— Harry Shearer (@theharryshearer) October 18, 2016