On October 10, 2018, the Second Circuit overturned a lower court’s order enjoying the production of a film about the 1977 plane crash that killed three members of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Because the lower court order said the film could legally cover the “experience” of crash survivor Artimus Pyle, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s drummer from 1974-1977, but not the history of the band, the Court of Appeals found this to be virtually impossible: “This crash is part of the ‘history’ of the band, but it is also an ‘experience’ of Pyle with the band, likely his most important experience…Provisions that both prohibit a movie about such a history and also permit a movie about such an experience are sufficiently inconsistent, or at least insufficiently specific, to support an injunction.”
In August 2018, U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet agreed with the band and issued a ruling that Pyle had “willingly bargained away” the right to make the movie. However, that ruling drew sharp criticism from First Amendment groups and entertainment companies, which said the ruling amounted to a prior restraint on speech and “undermines one of the most deeply held constitutional values.”
The Second Circuit held: “Appellants here, supported by several journalism and entertainment organizations, see this case as a classic First Amendment violation involving an unlawful prior restraint. It is not…No government entity has obtained a court order to prevent the making or release of the film.” They further added, “Even though the injunction here has allegedly been imposed as a result of private contract rather than government censorship, it nonetheless restrains the viewing of an expressive work prior to its public availability…Courts should always be hesitant to approve such an injunction.”
This lawsuit was filed against Pyle and Cleopatra Records Inc. last year by the two surviving members of the band over a film entitled: “Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash,” about the famous crash that killed lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and several others. They claimed the movie authorized by Pyle violated a 1988 agreement he and other members had signed governing the use of the band’s name and story.
This ruling sends the case back to Judge Sweet to reconsider the request for an injunction.
The plaintiffs, which included Skynyrd lead guitarist Gary Rossington, lead singer and Van Zant brother Johnny Van Zant and the heirs of late members, are represented by Richard G. Haddad of Otterbourg PC.
Cleopatra Records and Pyle are represented by Rishi Bhandari and Evan Mandel of Mandel Bhandari LLP.
The case is Ronnie Van Zant Inc. v. Artimus Pyle, case number 17-2849, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
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