‘Spinal Tap’ Creators Reach Settlement With Distributors

LOS ANGELES (CN) — The creators of popular mockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap” reached a settlement with French companies and film studios they claimed robbed them of $400 million in commercial profits after the studios acquired rights to the 1984 cult classic, according to court documents filed Friday.

Co-creators Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest, Rob Reiner and Michael McKean said in their 2016 federal lawsuit French company Vivendi S.A. and its subsidiary StudioCanal withheld profits from the film, its music and merchandise.

Vivendi estimated artists’ share of “Spinal Tap” income to be $81 from merchandise sales between 1984 and 2016, and $98 from record sales between 1989 and 2016, according to court documents. 

The film creators claimed Vivendi violated a 1982 production agreement that called for the artists to receive 40% of all net profits from the film.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Los Angeles after the artists said they found the companies engaged in “willful misconduct” by intentionally concealing details in accounting statements. Artists later sent copyright termination notices to co-defendants Universal Music Group and UMG Recordings.

In 2018, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee allowed the bulk of the artists’ claims to proceed after denying a bid by defendants — including StudioCanal exec Ron Halpern — to dismiss fraud claims relating to the film’s royalties.

But Gee also granted leave to amend Universal’s motion to dismiss contract claims relating to music royalties.

The artists eventually settled with Universal Music Group. But StudioCanal followed up with counterclaims against plaintiffs in 2019 in an effort to retain its copyright of the film, a move that sent the matter into a complex litigation phase.

More recently, the parties were engaged in months-long mediation proceedings before U.S. Magistrate Judge Louise LaMothe, a process they say was hampered by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

But in a joint status report filed Friday, attorneys with the firm Russ August & Kabat, who represent plaintiffs, said the parties reached an agreement a day prior on the basic outline for a settlement.

Details of the settlement were not immediately made available to the court.

“Because the settlement involves, among other things, somewhat complicated issues concerning the details and logistics of settlement, including restructuring the parties’ relationship and modifying contracts pertaining to the picture’s distribution, the parties anticipate that it may require some additional time to complete the settlement documentation and file a request for dismissal,” the status report said.

Attorneys for both parties did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the settlement Friday. 

A further joint status report is scheduled to be filed in October.

Shearer filed the initial $125 million lawsuit against Vivendi in October 2016. The other artists joined the lawsuit in 2017 and bumped the claims to $400 million.

The film, a satire about a British rock band on the decline, has been featured on numerous top movie lists of all time since its 1984 release. It was made for $2.25 million and earned $4.5 million in North American theaters alone when it was released, according to figures from box office analysis firm comScore.

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