Lynyrd Skynyrd’s surviving members cannot prevent the release of the film Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday. The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, New York overturned a permanent injunction that previously halted the movie, which depicts the 1977 plane crash that killed the Southern rock act’s then-frontman, Ronnie Van Zant.
Street Survivors, named after the group’s 1977 LP of the same name, is partially based on the recollections of former drummer Artimus Pyle, who played in the band from 1975 to 1991. The musician was one of 20 survivors of the tragic crash in Mississippi, which killed five other passengers on the band’s touring plane, including guitarist Steve Gaines.
Heirs of Van Zant and Gaines, along with founding guitarist Gary Rossington, sued Pyle and Cleopatra Records over the biopic in June 2017. A lower court judge ruled two months later that the project violated a 1988 “blood oath” consent order in which the band members agreed not to exploit the Lynyrd Skynyrd name after the crash. U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet declared that the film would bring “irreparable harm” to the band name and the late members’ estates.
As part of the agreement, Pyle was permitted to tell his own life story but not allowed to use the band’s name or the rights of those killed in the crash. But after the Court of Appeals’ 3-0 ruling, Cleopatra Records Inc. is now free to distribute the film, which reportedly cost $1.2 million to create.
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The court said the decree’s phrasing blocked Pyle from making a film about Lynyrd Skynyd’s history – but not one focused on his own experiences within the group, the crash included.
“That crash is part of the history’ of the band, but it is also an ‘experience’ of Pyle with the band, likely his most important experience,” the ruling reads in part. “Provisions of a consent decree that both prohibit a movie about such a history and also permit a movie about such an experience are sufficiently inconsistent, or at least insufficiently specific, to support an injunction.”
Evan Mandel, a lawyer for Cleopatra, described the ruling as “a victory for filmmakers, artists, journalists, readers, viewers and the marketplace of ideas.”