Spinal Tap lawsuit highlights “Hollywood accounting” in music industry
Harry Shearer has penned an op-ed to “highlight the longstanding and improper accounting practices in the music and film industries.”
In 1984, director-actor Rob Reiner and comedians Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer (aka Mr. Burns) created seminal cult rock mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap.
In October, Shearer sued media firm Vivendi, which bought the rights to the film in 1989, for US$125 million in damages. Shearer sued for accounting misappropriation, fraud and breach of contract, claiming Vivendi did not properly share profits of This Is Spinal Tap and its soundtrack.
Shearer, who played Derek Smalls in the mockumentary, alleges he’s earned only US$81 in merchandising income and only $98 for his contributions to the soundtrack – that’s over 22 years!
Earlier this year, Shearer’s on and off-screen comrades joined the fold with Christopher Guest and Michael McKean boosting the size of the claim to US$400 million.
The suit itself is explained in great detail over on Fairness Rocks, a website Shearer created. But now, with an op-ed penned by Shearer for Rolling Stone in the US, the film and music industries are behooved to take notice of the case.
“If exposed, as our Spinal Tap lawsuit against Vivendi aims to do, fans will no doubt be horrified at the shameful gravy train that rolls for corporate rights holders at the expense of creators,” wrote Shearer.
Written to “highlight the longstanding and improper accounting practices in the music and film industries,” the op-ed reveals the film’s creators were ignored when they requested earnings statements.
“Perhaps not unusually for a popular film produced over three decades ago, there have been a dizzying parade of corporate characters trading rights to This Is Spinal Tap through the years,” he wrote.
Referring to the handling of the film’s earnings as “Hollywood accounting”, Shearer compared the recoupment of monies in the film industry to the music industry.
“In the realm of online distribution of music, session players on contracted artists’ albums justifiably complain they are not paid a cent, centime or penny of the money from music streaming,” Shearer wrote. “As for their colleagues with an actual record contract, the labels treat streaming income as a sale. The contracted artists are accounted to on the basis of their sales royalty, and then only after the deduction of packaging costs — in a medium where there is no packaging! You can’t make it up.”
Shearer claimed Vivendi is the latest in a long line of rights-owning corporations who looked to the music industry for concealment tactics.
“Welcome to “Hollywood accounting” – California’s proudest export,” he wrote. “For now, the bean counters are laughing – yet few creators enjoy the joke. Let’s see how long it lasts.”
This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.