One of the 'This is Spinal Tap' co-creators, Harry Shearer, filed suit against Vivendi and Studio Canal, which acquired the film's rights from Embassy Pictures, for alleged fraud and misrepresentation. The lawsuit is based on the fact that Shearer, and everyone around the world for that matter, has seen the enormous success that the film has enjoyed for three decades now, yet Shearer and his fellow co-creators have not even received $200 from the merchandising.
Shearer claims that the deal the creators originally signed in 1982 guaranteed them 40 percent of the net earnings. Shearer is also claiming that Vivendi has used Spinal Tap over the years to offset other losses in an attempt to cover up the studio's shortcomings and cheat the Spinal Tap creators out of money.
Spinal Tap's Damages Go Way Back
Even though Shearer and his fellow co-creators have had long, illustrious careers, Shearer feels deceived and cheated by Vivendi. As Rolling Stone reports, Shearer's lawsuit alleges Vivendi and Studio Canal engaged in anti-competitive and unfair business practices, as well as concealed and manipulated the accounting to cheat Shearer and the other co-creators.
The lawsuit is not only claiming $125 million in damages, but Shearer is also seeking to obtain the rights to use the name Spinal Tap, and his character's name, Derrick Smalls, in connection with providing live musical performances and merchandising. Shearer claims that Vivendi and Studio Canal have abandoned their claims to the trademarks as they have allowed a brewery and others to use the Spinal Tap name without consequence.
How Can They Sue on a 30+ Year Old Contract?
Typically, a lawsuit based upon a contract must be brought within the statute of limitations. However, when a contract can be in effect for decades, the parties can sue for breach of contract so long as the breach occurred within the statute of limitations period.
In this case, Shearer did not discover the breach until a 2013 accounting was commissioned in anticipation of the film's 30th anniversary. In California, the statute of limitations for contract actions is generally four years. So barring a discovery rule issue, Shearer will be able to sue for any and all breaches that happened within the four years before he filed suit.