This is Spinal Tap is one of the great comedy films of all time. Even if you've somehow never seen it, you probably know numerous lines from the movie by heart. However, as successful as the movie has been, one if its stars has apparently seen very little of that success. Harry Shearer co-wrote the music for This is Spinal Tap but has seen little to no royalty payments for it. He's now suing Universal Music Group and Studiocanal for $125 million.
The suit filed by Shearer in the Central District Court of California earlier today is seeking punitive and compensatory damages from the two Vivendi subsidiaries due to underpayment of music royalties. How much of an underpayment are we talking about? According to Variety, Vivendi reported a total of $98 in soundtrack sales between 1989 and 2006, and only $81 in worldwide merchandising income between 1984 and 2006. That appears to be the total that the company says they received, so Harry Shearer would have only received a fraction of that. He would have to share his music royalties with the other writers: Christopher Guest, Rob Reiner, and Michael McKean.
We can't possibly know how much revenue the This is Spinal Tap soundtrack has brought in, however, we're feeling pretty safe in saying it was probably more than $179. While the film wasn't a runaway hit when it was released in 1984, it's become a cult classic, meaning that its popularity has had a longevity that many movies don't see. Certainly, as new fans have found the film, many of them have gone after the soundtrack, which as memorable as anything else in the movie.
Since the lawsuit was just filed, there has been no response from Vivendi yet. It's difficult to guess what sort of response there will be. It's possible that Vivendi will argue Harry Shearer was paid what was owed through some other channel. Perhaps Shearer's deal was to only pay royalties after other costs were paid and Vivendi will actually try to argue that these numbers are accurate based on that.
Harry Shearer's lawsuit is for him alone. However, the other music writers, one would assume, might have similar grievances. It would be unusual if somehow Shearer was the only one not being paid what was due. It will be interesting to see if the rest of the main cast joins this lawsuit, or if they decide to file lawsuits of their own in the coming weeks.
Have you ever purchased music from the soundtrack to This is Spinal Tap? Maybe we can confirm that more than $179 was spent just within our own comment section.