Guest, McKean and Reiner Join Shearer in “This is Spinal Tap” Fraud Suit Against Vivendi


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8 February 2017, London:  Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Rob Reiner, co-creators of the cult-classic film This is Spinal Tap, have today formally joined fellow creator, Harry Shearer, as plaintiffs in his lawsuit against French conglomerate Vivendi S.A..

Guest starred as the band Spinal Tap’s lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel; McKean as lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist David St Hubbins and Shearer as bassist Derek Smalls. Reiner directed the film and starred as its narrator.

The original complaint, by Shearer’s service company Century of Progress Productions, [Case No.  2:16-cv-07733], was filed on 17 October 2016 in the Central District of California USA. The lawsuit alleges Vivendi S.A. engaged in anti-competitive and unfair business practices, as well as fraudulent accounting, directly related to its management of This Is Spinal Tap.

With Guest, McKean and Reiner’s participation, the revised filed and served complaint now seeks US$400 (four hundred) million in compensatory and punitive damages from Vivendi, up from the US$125 million originally claimed.

Commenting on the lawsuit, Guest said: “The deliberate obfuscation by Vivendi and its subsidiaries is an outrage. It is vital that such behavior is challenged in the strongest way possible.”

Reiner adds:   “Fair reward for artistic endeavor has long been raised by those on the wrong end of the equation.  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 exposedI am hoping this lawsuit goes to 11.”

This is Spinal Tap was the result of four very stubborn guys working very hard to create something new under the sun. The movie’s influence on the last three decades of film comedy is something we are very proud of. But the buck always stopped somewhere short of Rob, Harry, Chris and myself. It’s time for a reckoning. It’s only right.” commented McKean.

Shearer welcomed his co-creators’ decision to join: “Their participation will help demonstrate the opaque and misleading conduct at the heart of this case. We’re even louder now.”

The amended complaint, which also incorporates Spinal Tap Productions (owned in equal share by all for co-creators), as a joint plaintiff alongside the co-creators and their service companies, details Vivendi’s alleged manipulation of certain accounting data, while ignoring contractually obligated accounting and reporting processes, to deny the plaintiffs their rightful stake in the production’s profits.



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In 1982, Reiner, Shearer, Guest, and McKean signed an agreement with Embassy Pictures, Inc. for the production, financing and distribution of This Is Spinal Tap. The agreement ensured profit participation payments, at the rate of 40 percent of net receipts, to the creators based on all sources of revenue, including merchandise and music.

After two years of production, the film was released in 1984. It soon became a cult favourite, and its reputation as one of the 20th Century’s most enduring comedies has increased exponentially in the ensuing years. The film’s accolades include being named in the New York TimesGuide to the Best 1,000 Greatest Movies Ever Made list, Total Film’s 100 Greatest Movies of All Time list, and achieving the coveted Number One spot on Time Out London’s 100 Best Comedy Movies list. In 2002, the film’s lasting appeal led the U.S. Library of Congress to designate it as a culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant film.

The film’s ongoing critical success was likewise matched by its financial success. It was produced on a shoestring budget of $2.25 million. The complaint alleges that This Is Spinal Tapgenerated millions of dollars across various revenue streams for Vivendi, its subsidiary companies, and their licensees. The music and merchandise that the film and band have spawned, earned tens of millions of dollars in revenue through re-releases, album and singles sales, merchandise sales, and distribution of the film in various formats across the globe over the course of the last 32 years.  However, these profits were not fairly shared with the four co-creators, cast, or crew.

The French conglomerate claims that the four creators’ share of total worldwide merchandising income between 1984 and 2006 was a mere $81 dollars. Likewise, total income from soundtrack music sales between 1989 and 2006 was reported by Vivendi as only $98 dollars/

Band & Movie Background

Although This Is Spinal Tap was first released in 1984 in US and UK (in 2000 in France) the band “Spinal Tap” was actually created in the late 1970s. The band’s rock musician characters “Nigel Tufnel” and “David St. Hubbins” were created by Christopher Guest and Michael McKean with Harry Shearer creating bassist “Derek Smalls”.  Spinal Tap’s comedic sole claim to fame was as “one of England’s loudest bands”.

Phrasing from the film’s script has entered the general lexicon (“it goes to 11”).  The film continues to be shown regularly on TV home viewing around the world, is available on multiple video formats and has been supported by several album/singles releases and band tours.

Litigation Background

Harry Shearer’s determination to highlight the principle of fair rights to creators led him to launch the original suit.  He is unafraid to take on vested interests in the entertainment industry in his pursuit of equitable treatment between the industry and its talent.  He is today joined by all of his co-creators of Spinal Tap the band, and the film.

This lawsuit will determine several key matters in respect of the exploitation rights to This Is Spinal Tap, including breach of contract, fraud and fraudulent concealment, breach of an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealings and intellectual property rights.    The lawsuit raises particular concerns over the anti-competitive effects of non-arms’ length transactions among Vivendi subsidiaries in managing This Is Spinal Tap. These issues are further outlined in the Complaint.


Lead Litigator:                                    Peter Haviland, Ballard Spahr (Los Angeles, CA.)

Lead Counsel:                                    Amanda Harcourt, Intellectual Property Consultant (UK)

8 February 2017

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