Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner, and Michael McKean were dismissed on Thursday from a profits lawsuit around the classic 1984 rock comedy “This Is Spinal Tap.” U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee granted Vivendi’s motion to dismiss the three, along with a fraud claim, although she allowed co-creator Christopher Guest’s case to proceed.
Because Gee left the door open for the three co-creators to amend their complaint, the principals viewed the ruling as “an important victory.”
“It ratifies a critical contractual right for artists: even in studio-drafted contracts containing a ‘No Third Party Beneficiary Clause,’ artists may be determined by a Court to be third party beneficiaries who have the right to sue for wrongdoing, notwithstanding such contractual clauses,” said Peter Haviland, trial counsel for the four “Spinal Tap” co-creators. “The Court has invited us to amend our complaint to clarify the individual rights of each of the co-creators, and we will do so promptly. We will also be adding further facts to highlight Vivendi’s history of fraud in this case, and to address equally important issues of copyright reversion and so-called ‘works for hire.’”
In October 2016, Shearer’s Century of Progress Productions sued Vivendi’s Universal Music Group and Studiocanal for $125 million for the alleged underpayment of music royalties in the film. The lawsuit said Vivendi reported only $98 in total income from soundtrack music sales between 1989 and 2006, and just $81 in worldwide merchandising income. Guest, and companies belonging to Reiner and McKean, were later added to the complaint.
Vivendi argued that the co-creators, who sought up to $400 million in damages, did not have the legal right to sue. Gee agreed, noting that the contracts with the creators’ companies obligated them to “perform services — not receive rights or other benefits.” She also concurred with Vivendi that details of the fraud allegations were not up to snuff.