Last October, star Harry Shearer filed a $125 million lawsuit against Vivendi and StudioCanal, which own the rights to the movie, alleging accounting misappropriation, fraud and breach of contract in regards to the 1984 movie This Is Spinal Tap and its soundtrack. Shearer claimed that in 22 years, the Spinal Tap creators — himself, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean – earned only earned $81 in merchandising from the mockumentary and $98 from its soundtrack. The actor alleged that Vivendi reported to him that the movie “hasn’t been profitable” despite multiple theatrical releases, home-video release and TV airings.
Earlier this month, McKean, Guest and the film’s director, Rob Reiner, joined the lawsuit, also claiming unfair compensation and bumping the sought-after damages to $400 million. However, Vivendi is seeking to oust the individual members and their associated companies from the lawsuit, claiming that only Spinal Tap Productions – the company that granted Embassy Pictures, and later its successor StudioCanal, the rights to the movie in 1982 – can file such a lawsuit.
Vivendi’s new motion to dismiss also states that the Spinal Tap crew never hired an accountant to review StudioCanal’s records, nor even requested an audit. “Thus, they lack the information they would need to assert that StudioCanal rendered erroneous or improper Spinal Tap participation statements, if that had happened,” the suit reads.
The suit also reasserts Vivendi’s claim that This is Spinal Tap “has not generated anywhere near the revenue necessary to pay” the creators the $400 million they’re seeking. Per the motion, the film has generated a theatrical revenue of under $5 million in the United States, while other sources and territories have drawn in similarly modest sums.
Vivendi also responded to Shearer’s efforts to have the rights to This Is Spinal Tap revert back to its authors under a Copyright Act provision that terminates some licenses after 35 years. While the movie did not come out until 1984, Shearer, Guest and McKean originated the characters in 1978, and in 1980 appeared in a proof-of-concept film that featured songs like “Sex Farm” and “Stonehenge” later used in the film.
In its motion, however, Vivendi said Shearer’s “notice threatens StudioCanal’s ability to distribute Spinal Tap and to otherwise enjoy its lawful rights to the movie.” The conglomerate argued that Shearer has no termination rights as Spinal Tap and its soundtrack were created as work-for-hire, making the employer the true author. Vivendi said that it plans to file a counterclaim to confirm this after the court settles StudioCanal’s other complaints.