Harry Shearer, who played bassist Derek Smalls in the 1984 mockumentary This is Spinal Tap, is suing the media conglomerate Vivendi for $125 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Shearer, who wrote the movie along with Christopher Guest, Rob Reiner, and Michael McKean, claims in the lawsuit that he was never properly compensated for sales from the movie's soundtrack and merchandise.
In a complaint filed Monday in California, Shearer alleges that Vivendi has profited hugely from This is Spinal Tap while refusing to pay rightful revenues to the movie's creators. The lawsuit alleges that between 1984 and 2006, StudioCanal (a French subsidiary of Vivendi) reported that the total merchandising income received by all four creators was just $81. Additionally, the creators' combined income from music sales from 1989 to 2006 was just $98. "Vivendi has engaged and is continuing to engage in anti-competitive and unfair business practices and has abandoned its obligations to enforce intellectual property rights in This Is Spinal Tap," the suit claims. "Vivendi has also failed, and continues to fail, to account honestly for income actually received from This Is Spinal Tap."
A willful manipulation of funds
The lawsuit raises several other issues, claiming Vivendi "willfully concealed and manipulated years of accountings" and frequently bundled This is Spinal Tap with less successful films in order to make failures seem more profitable.
Shearer claims that in 1982, he Reiner, Guest, and McKean signed a contract with Embassy Pictures that said they would receive "contingent compensation" for TIST, including 40 percent of the movie's net receipts, which, as THR points out, is difficult to calculate, especially since Embassy Pictures no longer has the rights to the movie. Shearer has also filed for copyright termination, which allows authors to regain the rights to their work after 35 years. If his attempts to terminate Vivendi's copyright is successful, Shearer could regain the rights to Spinal Tap in 2019.
In the meantime, Shearer has created a website, FairnessRocks.com, to exist as something of a home base for people hoping to hear his side of the story. In a video posted to the site he says, "Filing a claim like this one is neither fun nor easy. Going up against a major multinational is not nearly as enjoyable as playing too loud in Carnegie Hall. But people who are squashed by large corporations can't fight back unless they have significant resources of their own. I'm incredibly fortunate to be able to fight back and I think it's important to challenge the status quo, not just for myself but I hope for all my fellow artists, musicians and creators. After all, they depend for their livelihoods on a fair return for their hard work."