Case Name: Ronnie Van Zant, Inc. v. Artimus Pyle – Second Circuit
Date of Opinion: October 10, 2018
Opinion by: Per Curiam; Judge Newman & Judge Hall (concurring)
Defendant-Appellants appeal a permanent injunction decree issued by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York that prohibited the release and distribution of a film surrounding the plane crash of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Band.
The Lynyrd Skynyrd band was founded in the 1960s by Ronnie Van Zant (“Ronnie”), Gary R. Rossington, and Allen Collins. In 1975, Artimus Pyle joined the band as a drummer. On October 20, 1977, the band was in a plane crash that killed lead singer, Ronnie, and several other members. Pyle, Rossington, and Collins survived the crash. Following the tragic crash, Ronnie’s widow, Judith and the surviving members entered into an oath, in which they agreed to never use the Lynyrd Skynyrd name ever again. For a period of ten years, the promise was honored. However, in 1987, the surviving band members embarked on a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute tour. Judith took issue with the use of the band’s name and sued the members in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. At the conclusion of that suit, the district court issued a Consent Order limiting the members’ ability to use the band’s name and the biographical material of Ronnie, while allowing the surviving members “to exploit their life stories and portray their experiences with the band in movies.” That Consent Order is the basis for this present appeal.
Thereafter, in 2016, Pyle agreed with Cleopatra Records, Inc. to film a movie about Lynyrd Skynyrd and the events surrounding the 1977 plane crash. The contract provided that the story would be told “’through the recollections and experiences of Pyle.’” When plaintiffs, former band members and their trustees and representatives, learned of the film via press release, they sent a cease and desist letter to Cleopatra Records, Inc. Cleopatra Records, Inc. responded, asserting that it had no agreement with the plaintiffs and that it had a First Amendment right to produce and distribute the movie, and moved forward with the movie production. Plaintiffs sought judicial redress in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. After reviewing the final script, the district court ultimately concluded that the plaintiffs were entitled to a permanent injunction prohibiting the distribution of the film and other related activities. The defendants appealed this decision, Continue reading