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Several months ago, it was announced that Harry Shearer was suing Vivendi, the company that owns This is Spinal Tap. Now, the actor has explained just why it was so important that this suit happen, not just for him, but for all creators. Originally, Shearer filed suit for non-payment of royalties regarding merchandise as well the film's soundtrack. Now Shearer's co-stars Christopher Guest and Michael McKean have joined the suit, increasing the damages requested to $400 million, and Shearer has now penned an op-ed to explain that what happened to them, has been happening to others as well, and hopefully this lawsuit will fix it for everybody. He writes...
Behind the ambitious, creative talent that is Hollywood lies a darker side of the entertainment industry little appreciated by the ordinary moviegoer. It's an opaque world of film financing, revenue accretion and minimal profit share. 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.
At the center of the lawsuit is the practice known as "Hollywood accounting." It's become almost a joke that movies never seem to make enough money to adequately pay the creative people who made them. Harry Shearer points out in his op-ed for Rolling Stone that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix reportedly lost $170 million while somehow seeing nearly $1 billion at the worldwide box office.
Previously, it was reported that Vivendi had only reported a total of $98 in soundtrack sales over a 22-year period. As such, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, and Christopher Guest, who wrote all the music for This is Spinal Tap themselves, have seen pennies in royalties. While we have no idea how much income the Spinal Tap has actually seen in that period, I think it's fairly obvious the number is over $100.
This creative accounting seems to pop up now and again whenever a creator is entitled to a share of the profits of something they helped create. If the accounting shows that no profits were made, then the studio doesn't need to pay out. Harry Shearer isn't looking to simply fix the problem with movies, however. He also points out that since music has shifted to a largely streaming model, musicians see little to no money from those sources.
It will certainly be interesting to see where this lawsuit goes. If the Spinal Tap team prevails it could very easily have the major repercussions that Harry Shearer clearly wants to see. Surely, we all want to see creators properly compensated for the success of their creations. We'll be watching this lawsuit as it progresses, keep your eyes on CinemaBlend for more.