6:37am PT by Eriq Gardner
Rob Reiner and 'Spinal Tap' Co-Creators Join Harry Shearer's Fraud Lawsuit Against Vivendi
This Is Spinal Tap co-creators Christopher Guest and Michael McKean, along with the 1984 film's director Rob Reiner, are now co-plaintiffs in Harry Shearer's lawsuit against Vivendi and StudioCanal after allegedly being denied rightful profit participation from the rockumentary classic. On Tuesday, an amended lawsuit was filed in California federal court that also ups the damages demanded from $125 million to $400 million.
The bulk of the complaint remains similar to the original version as the four Spinal Tap artists allege being given just $81 in merchandising income and $98 in music sales income over the last few decades, plus not receiving accounting statements in the past three years. They allege Vivendi has engaged in "anti-competitive and unfair business practices and has abandoned its obligations to enforce intellectual property rights," and bringing contract claims, they are seeking to regain rights to the property and collect compensatory and punitive damages.
For the moment, perhaps more important than the huge money claimed, the participation of Shearer's colleagues is likely aimed at satisfying a possible flaw in the case filed last October. The profit participation flows from a 1982 production agreement calling for Spinal Tap Productions, an entity owned by Shearer, McKean, Guest and Reiner, to get 40 percent of net receipts.
Originally, however, Shearer's Century of Progress Productions was the sole plaintiff, potentially opening up a line of attack from Vivendi that Shearer didn't have standing to contest contractual obligations. He may have attempted to argue he was a beneficiary under the old agreement, but the addition of Spinal Tap Productions, Reiner, Guest and McKean as co-plaintiffs saves Shearer from having to go this awkward route. None of that is explicitly stated in the complaint. Instead, it opens by remarking how the lawsuit "has already been successful in inspiring other artists to speak out for fairness in the film, music and merchandising industries."
Here's a copy of the amended complaint. Peter Haviland at Ballard Spahr is the attorney for the plaintiffs while Robert Schwartz at Irell & Manella is set to tackle the defense.
“Fair reward for artistic endeavor has long been raised by those on the wrong end of the equation," said Reiner in a statement. "What makes this case so egregious is the prolonged and deliberate concealment of profit and the purposeful manipulation of revenue allocation between various Vivendi subsidiaries – to the detriment of the creative talent behind the band and film. Such anti-competitive practices need to be exposed."
Haviland, in a statement to THR, reacts to the standing issue raised above.
"It was not until Harry filed the suit that Christopher, Michael and Rob learned they were being defrauded in this outrageous way," he says. "They joined neither for legal reason, nor money, but simply believed it was the right thing to do. Basic fairness is worth fighting for."
Vivendi will soon be submitting its answer in court to the lawsuit. In December, prompted by a story about the case in the French newspaper Le Monde, the company issued a statement noting that the film had generated $15 million in revenue and had "never been contested," nor "resulted in any request for explanation from Harry Shearer."
"Vivendi also wishes to state that it has never received until now any subpoena from Harry Shearer or his representatives, either in the United States or elsewhere," continued the statement. "The Group is therefore surprised by this disproportionate press campaign and reserves its rights in this case."
Updated with Haviland's statement.