In the fictional world of This Is Spinal Tap, the titular band probably isn't generating enough revenue to be worthy of a lawsuit over royalties, at least not until they become huge in Japan. But in the real world, the movie and the band itself are worth millions of dollars in merchandising and other profits, which is the subject of a lawsuit between the three members of the band – Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer – and the film's director, Rob Reiner, against Vivendi the company that currently owns the movie.
NPR reports that the whole thing began when Harry Shearer, who plays dimwitted bassist Derek Smalls in This is Spinal Tap as well as the band's myriad other appearances over the past four decades, took a meeting with Vivendi exec Rob Halpern a few years ago. The meeting was to discuss a theatrical re-release of the film, and Shearer got an idea that the movie was actually much more profitable than he and the other three equal partners in Spinal Tap Productions (Reiner, Guest, and McKean) had been led to believe. Shearer suggested a small, "boutique" company to handle the distribution and marketing of the re-release, and Halpern ended up hiring a big-ticket MGM subsidiary instead – this despite the fact that, incredibly, in 2013 the four had only been paid "$81 in merchandising royalties and $98 in music royalties" since the film's release in 1984! Shearer sued over alleged lost profits, and now his bandmates, as well as Reiner, have joined in on the action as well. Here's part of a statement from Rob Reiner on his and the other two members of the band's joining with the Shearer suit filed in October of last year:
"What makes this case so egregious is the prolonged and deliberate concealment of profit and the purposeful manipulation of revenue allocation between various Vivendi subsidiaries, to the detriment of the creative talent behind the band and film. Such anti-competitive practices need to be exposed."
The lawsuit alleges that Vivendi has been guilty of a misleading accounting process known as "straight-lining," in which companies that own the rights to many different movies lump in successful cash cows like Spinal Tap with less-lucrative or forgotten ones in order to obscure their actual value from artists. The three writer/performers and Reiner are now seeking $400 million in compensatory and punitive damages stemming from Vivendi's alleged failure to pay what they're owed according to their initial contract. That embarrassing Stonehenge incident, however, is not mentioned in the lawsuit.