Shearer launches Spinal Tap lawsuit against Universal

November 2016

Film & TV


This Is Spinal Tap star Harry Shearer is suing Universal parent Vivendi for alleged is deliberate under-payment of music and other royalties from the classic spoof rockumentary. His website, Fairness Rocks, opens with this

Popular music and films make huge money for rights-owning corporations.

Yet, too often, the artists and creators get a raw deal from exploitation of their talent. I want to help rebalance this equation.

My case against Vivendi is simple, if perhaps a little shocking.

It’s been 34 years since This Is Spinal Tap was released.

Yet, the creators have been told that global music sales from the soundtrack album total just US$98. We’re also, apparently, only entitled to share US$81 (between us) from global merchandising sales.

This shocks me, given Tap’s enduring popularity.

So, Vivendi – it’s not a big ask. Just show us how you’re exploiting our creative work and pay us a fair share


In a lawsuit filed at the Central District Court of California Shearer accuses Vivendi of “fraudulent accounting for revenues from music copyrights” – through Universal – as well as mismanaging film and merchandising rights through UMG sister companies such as Studio Canal.


A press release from Shearer says “When Vivendi acquired the rights to This Is Spinal Tap in 1989, through its subsidiary Canal, the lawsuit alleges it began a concerted and fraudulent campaign to hide, or grossly underreport, the film’s revenues in order to avoid its profit participation obligations. Vivendi’s financial reporting of income has been woefully inconsistent at best. Performance of its duties to the film’s creators dropped off entirely from 2014, the 30th anniversary of the film’s initial theatrical release. In the past two years, Vivendi has altogether failed to produce an account of any Tap revenue, according to the complaint.”


Shearer, also the voice of Principal Skinner, Mr Burns and many others in the Simpsons, co-created the movie, co-wrote the soundtrack and starred as the This Is Spinal Tap (TIST) band bassist, Derek Smalls. His claims, highlighted above, are that between 1989 and 2006, total income from soundtrack music sales for the four creators of the film was reported by Vivendi as just $98 and that “Vivendi asserts that the four creators’ share of total worldwide merchandising income between 1984 and 2006 was $81”.


The complaint reveals: “Shearer is concurrently filing notices of copyright termination for publishing and recording rights in Spinal Tap songs he co-wrote and co-recorded, as well as in the film itself”.


Shearer alleges that Vivendi had “engaged in a pattern of anti-competitive and unfair business practices, had abandoned enforcement of valuable TIST rights, and had willfully concealed and manipulated years of accountings to retain monies due and owing to Plaintiff”, and,  “failed and refused, and continues to fail and refuse, to provide Plaintiff with proper and accurate accountings reflecting the amount of revenues derived from the distribution and exploitation of the Film and associated music and merchandise rights”.


Irregularities highlighted include


– failure to account for monies received, including a 2004 settlement payment received from MGM Home Video totaling over $1.6 million dollars for under reported VHS and DVD revenues, when statements for the year 2004 were never submitted to Plaintiff by Defendants;


– undocumented marketing and promotion expenses allegedly incurred years after release totaling over $2.5 million dollars;


undocumented charges to “Freight and other Direct Costs” totaling over $500,000 over several years, allegedly incurred almost twenty years after the film’s initial release;


The action, brought in the name of Century of Progress Productions, seeks $125,000,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

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