Lynyrd Skynyrd ‘Street Survivors’ Movie Halted by Judge’s Ruling
A judge has issued a permanent injunction against a planned Lynyrd Skynyrd movie which was to have told the story of the band's tragic 1977 plane crash from the perspective – and with the assistance – of Artimus Pyle.
The former Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer's participation is the specific reason why New York-based U.S. District Judge Robert W. Sweet issued his ruling against Cleopatra Records' production of Street Survivor: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
The families of Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines – two members of Lynyrd Skynyrd who died in the aforementioned accident – joined founding and current Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington in suing Pyle over his plans to participate as a consultant and co-producer of the film in return for a reported five percent cut of the film's net receipts. They argued that Pyle's actions violated a 1987 consent order which prohibited him and his fellow bandmates from undertaking in any band-related project without the participation of at least three surviving members from Lynyrd Skynyrd's pre-crash era.
In recent years, this agreement has not been strictly enforced in regards to the band's touring and recording career. Since the 2009 death of keyboardist Billy Powell, Rossington and guitarist Rickey Medlocke – who briefly played with the group in 1971 before rejoining in 1996 – have served as the only two remaining members of the pre-crash era in the group's touring lineup.
Pyle and Cleopatra's lawyers argued that their clients had "an affirmative constitutional right to engage in the speech for which it is being sued: In producing and releasing the film, Cleopatra is exercising its right to make a film about a newsworthy event from the past, a form of constitutionally protected free speech."
However, the Van Zant and Gaines family lawyers contended that while "Cleopatra is free to make a movie about Lynyrd Skynyrd and/or about the plane crash," what they could not do legally "is to make such a movie in concert and participation with Pyle in violation of the restrictions imposed on him by the consent order."
Judge Sweet sided with the argument from the Van Zant and Gaines families, declaring that "Cleopatra's consultations with Pyle were important because the film incorporates, in substantive part, the depictions of Van Zant, Gaines, and the rest of the Lynyrd Skynyrd band, as well as major bits of their history."
In his 64-page ruling, Sweet went on to say "Cleopatra argues that their film is Pyle's story, as no part of the film depicts the history of Lynyrd Skynyrd without Pyle and which is permitted under the terms of the consent order. To an extent, this is true: There is no doubt that Pyle plays a central role in the film. However, the inverse of Cleopatra's claim is true too: No part of the film depicts Pyle outside his time with Lynyrd Skynyrd. As such, there is also no doubt that the film is a film about the Lynyrd Skynyrd band. As the facts have demonstrated, none of the defendants received the requisite authorization under the terms of the consent order in depiction of Van Zant or Gaines or in the use of the Lynyrd Skynyrd name – and therefore all have violated the consent order."
Judge Sweet was apparently unable to resist using a Skynyrd-related pun while explaining that Cleopatra could theoretically go forward with their plans for the film if they scrapped the script they made with Pyle's participation and severed all other ties with him. "Cleopatra is prohibited from making its movie about Lynyrd Skynyrd when its partner substantively contributes to the project in a way that, in the past, he willingly bargained away the very right to do just that; in any other circumstance, Cleopatra would be as 'free as a bird' to make and distribute its work."
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