In an opinion this week, Judge Sweet granted a permanent injunction against a film depicting the band Lynyrd Skynyrd, finding that it violated a 1988 consent order limiting the use of the band’s name and songs. The agreement, originally overseen by Judge Sweet, was entered into by surviving family and band members from a 1977 plane crash that killed the band’s lead singer, Ronnie Van Zant, and other band members. The film was a collaboration between Cleopatra Records and former Lynyrd Skynyrd drummer Artimus Pyle.
Judge Sweet found that Pyle’s role on the film violated the consent order (even if he wrote “Under Protest” next to his signature on the original order) and that the plaintiffs had demonstrated irreparable harm:
Plaintiffs have demonstrated irreparable harm. The creation of the Consent Order, and in particular the provisions restricting the use of the name, likeness, and biography of Zach and Gaines, demonstrate in part a desire to preserve and protect the memory of deceased husbands and friends. The evidence has not established that required authorizers under the Consent Order have given approval to the way Cleopatra has chosen to tell the story of Van Zant, Jenness’ dead husband, or the band member’s band. To the extent that those who bargained for the right to have a say in how such memories are sustained, the loss of control over one’s reputation is neither calculable nor precisely compensable. Furthermore, as to the legacy of friends and loved ones, the emotional damages are difficult to quantify and the remedy cannot be found to be monetary.
Judge Sweet also rejected a First Amendment defense, noting that:
Cleopatra has not been blanket prohibited from making a movie about Lynyrd Skynyrd, about producing a movie about the 1977 plane crash while hiring actors to play Van Zant and Gaines, or from producing a movie that includes Pyle. Rather, 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 right to do just that; in any other circumstance, Cleopatra would be as “free as a bird” to make and distribute its work.