Film, recorded music
As we have previously reported, the original dispute arose in the actors behind This Is Spinal Tap and StudioCanal began when Harry Shearer, a co-creator of the cult movie, alleged that StudioCanal, Vivendi’s movie business had “wilfully manipulated certain accounting data…to deny [the] co-creators their rightful stake in the production’s profits”. If the co-creators are correct it wasn’t a small mistake either, $400 million is being claimed by the creators Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest, Michael McKrean and Rob Reiner.
Vivendi has been calling the lawsuit “absurd” for some time now. They have always insisted that the financial performance of the movie has been modest. However, things have taken a twist, a twist that seems all too common these days. Shearer is now attempting to reclaim the rights to all things “Spinal Tap” in the US. Shearer is attempting this by utilising the reversion right that is a part of US copyright law.
In a nut shell, US law states that a creator who has assigned his rights to a third party is able to reclaim the rights after 35 years. This law is around 35 years old now, and so the technicalities of the law are being tested as many cases are emerging.
Although, it should be noted that the law is not applicable to contracts that are done as a work for hire. Unsurprisingly, Vivendi is opposed to the rights being reclaimed on the basis that the “This is Spinal Tap” work was produced as a work for hire. The creators disagree with this and they have all filed their notices.
Christopher Guest one of the creators has explained that “Vivendi is re-writing history and showing a complete lack of understanding of copyright law. The band, the characters, the distinctive logo and most of the songs performed both live and televised all existed long before any agreement to produce a motion picture”.
This will undoubtedly give rise to much debate over what constitutes a work for hire agreement in American law, and has given way to yet another test of copyright reversion.
By Samuel O’Toole Trainee Solicitor LLB (Hons) of www.lawditmusic.co.uk