Actor Harry Shearer Sues Over 'Spinal Tap' Royalties
Comedian and actor Harry Shearer said in a lawsuit filed Monday that he's been bilked for years out of profits
generated by "This Is Spinal Tap," the classic comedy film he starred in and helped create. He's seeking damages that
go way beyond 11.
Mr. Shearer, suing through his production company, is seeking $125 million in compensatory and punitive damages from
Vivendi SA, the French conglomerate that controls the film's rights, and its StudioCanal subsidiary. The suit was filed
in federal court in Los Angeles.
The suit alleges Vivendi and its subsidiaries, through manipulative accounting and negligent control of its "Spinal
Tap" copyrights, deprived Mr. Shearer of millions of dollars generated by the movie's long afterlife. He is also seeking
control of the trademarks to the band name Spinal Tap and Derek Smalls, the character he portrayed.
The concert mockumentary about an over-the-hill metal band was well received when it was released in 1984, and it has
since enjoyed a steady stream of revenue that's relatively rare in Hollywood. Video and television deals have followed,
along with merchandise celebrating the movie's catchphrases, including fictional guitarist Nigel Tufnel's explanation
that the dials on an extra-loud amplifier "go to 11," rather than the usual 10.
Mr. Shearer, who would go on from "Spinal Tap" to a comedy career that includes voicing 23 characters on "The
Simpsons," says in the suit that, despite the movie's cult status, he and the movie's co-creators received $81 in
merchandising income and $98 in sales for songs featured in the movie like "Sex Farm" and "Stonehenge" between 1984 and
2006. No financial statements were provided for the last two years, the suit alleges.
Suits like Mr. Shearer's occasionally appear in Hollywood, where disputes over studio accounting are commonplace. It's
rare to see a suit related to a movie like "Spinal Tap," which is selling merchandise and generating deals more than 30
years after its release.
"Spinal Tap" had a modest budget of $2.25 million, and was inspired by a fictional band created by Mr. Shearer,
Christopher Guest and Michael McKean. The three men have continued to work together in the years since, most notably for
Mr. Guest's other mockumentaries like "A Mighty Wind." Messrs. Guest and McKean are cited as co-creators of the act but
are not named as plaintiffs in the suit.
"This Is Spinal Tap" made $4.5 million during its initial theatrical release. The rights to the film then changed
hands several times before landing with Vivendi. Mr. Shearer's suit alleges that his original distribution agreement
included profit-participation deals on sales related to the movie.
Vivendi, the suit alleges, has failed to collect potential royalties on merchandise sales by abandoning "Spinal Tap"
trademarks and forfeited potential money by not going after trademark breaches (the suit cites a brewing company that
successfully filed for a "Spinal Tap"-inspired beer).
Mr. Shearer is hoping to tap his movie's massive fan base for support in the suit. In a video posted to his Twitter
account on Tuesday, he ran through the movie's distribution over the decades—from theaters to home video.
"And yet, for most of that time, according to Vivendi, it hasn't been profitable," he said.
Mr. Shearer said the suit was part of a larger effort needed to get artists their share. "Going up against a major
multinational is not nearly as enjoyable as playing too loud in Carnegie Hall," he said, referring to a gig on the
fictional band's 2001 reunion tour.
Write to Erich Schwartzel at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
Copyright (c) 2016 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.