According to the settlement, Universal Music Group will continue to distribute Spinal Tap’s music, although “eventually the rights will be given to the creators. The parties look forward to making these beloved recordings available to existing and new Spinal Tap fans for years to come.” No details were given regarding when Spinal Tap would gain control over their catalog.
In a statement, Harry Shearer — who played bassist Derek Smalls in the original film and launched the lawsuit in 2016 — said, “I must admit, from the moment we first began mediation with them to now, I’ve been impressed by UMG’s respect for creatives and their distinctive desire to seek a prompt and equitable solution to the issues.”
In October 2016, Shearer’s Century of Progress Productions sued UMG, StudioCanal and their parent company, Vivendi, over unpaid royalties. The lawsuit alleged that Vivendi had said he’d earned just $81 in merchandising and $98 for the Spinal Tap soundtrack between 1989 and 2006. Shearer also launched an initiative, Fairness Rocks, along with the lawsuit, and in February 2017, his Spinal Tap co-creators — actors Christopher Guest and Michael McKean, and director Rob Reiner — joined the suit, seeking damages of $400 million.
Over the next year, the suit hit a few snags as Vivendi tried to get it dismissed. At one point, a judge denied Vivendi’s overall request, but did bump Shearer, McKean and Reiner from the suit because they’d joined it via their “loan out companies” (the three later amended the suit and joined Guest under their own names). Eventually, in November 2018, lawyers for Vivendi and the Spinal Tap crew agreed to pause the suit and start working with a mediator.
While the deal announced today settles Spinal Tap’s dispute with UMG, Billboard notes that the band’s complaint against StudioCanal and executive Ron Halpern has not been resolved. That complaint involves breach of contract, fraud and anti-competitive businesses practices related to the management of film rights.