Surprise, Hollywood's screwed someone; this time, professional satirist Harry Shearer, & he is going to show the frog-eating rentiers of Vivendi S.A. a thing or two.
A Los Angeles federal judge will hear arguments May 5 in a lawsuit brought by comic actor and voice-over artist Harry Shearer accusing the parent company of Universal Music of manipulating earnings of the 1984 comedy film “This is Spinal Tap.”
The suit seeks at least $400 million in damages for the film’s creators.
Shearer — best known for voicing nearly two dozen characters on “The Simpsons” — co-created the mock documentary that follows the exploits of the much-troubled heavy metal group Spinal Tap, a fictional band created by Shearer, Michael McKean and Christopher Guest. Shearer portrays the band’s bass player, Derek Smalls.
According to the 2016 lawsuit, the film and its music “have remained popular for more than 30 years, and have earned considerable sums for the French conglomerate Vivendi S.A. But not for its creators.”
“Defendant Vivendi and its agents, including StudioCanal executive Ron Halpern, have engaged in anti-competitive business practices by manipulating accounting between Vivendi film and music subsidiaries and have engaged in fraud to deprive the Spinal Tap creators of a fair return for their work,” according to the complaint.
The defendants responded in late February with a motion to dismiss based on the contention that Shearer and his co-defendants never requested an audit of the film distributor’s records to determine whether participation statements comply with a contract.
“Thus, they lack the information they would need to assert that StudioCanal rendered erroneous or improper Spinal Tap participation statements, if that had happened,” according to the motion.
“However, it did not. Had plaintiffs investigated their lawsuit before filing it … they would have learned that they have no basis on which to assert any claims concerning the calculation and payment of the Spinal Tap participation. That is because StudioCanal has accounted and paid STP’s participation in accordance with the Agreement.”
U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee is set to hear arguments from both sides next month.
The lawsuit contends that despite two theatrical releases of the film and repeated re-selling of rights that earned profits for multiple companies, Vivendi insists that the total share of worldwide merchandising income for the film’s four creators — including director/narrator Rob Reiner — totaled $81 between 1984 and 2006, while total income from music sales from 1989 to 2006 was $98.
“Over the past two years, Vivendi has failed to provide accounting statements at all,” according to the suit.
The suit is seeking damages of at least $400 million. It also notes that Shearer is pursuing trademark applications to secure creative rights to the film and its music, and Shearer is seeking “a judicial declaration vindicating those rights, which have been abandoned by Vivendi.”