Lynyrd Skynyrd sues ex-drummer over movie about 1977 plane crash

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FILE PHOTO - Singer Kid Rock performs with Johnny Van Zant and his band Lynyrd Skynyrd on ABC's "Good Morning America" in New York

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd have filed a lawsuit against the Southern rock band’s former drummer to halt the production of a movie depicting the 1977 plane crash that killed lead singer Ronnie Van Zant.

Lead guitarist Gary Rossington, Ronnie’s brother and current lead singer Johnny Van Zant, and others contend that “Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash,” based on recollections of former drummer Artimus Pyle, violated a 1988 consent order governing the use of the band’s name.

The lawsuit against Pyle and co-defendant Cleopatra Records Inc was made public on Friday in the U.S. district court in Manhattan. A trial is scheduled for July 11, court records show.

Pyle could not immediately be reached for comment. It is unclear whether he has a lawyer.

Brian Perera, Cleopatra’s president, said in an interview he would be willing to settle, but added, “I understood my First Amendment rights. Filmmakers can make biopics.”

Known for such songs as “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird,” Lynyrd Skynyrd went on hiatus after its touring plane crashed in Mississippi on Oct. 20, 1977, killing Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steven Gaines and four others. Twenty people, including Pyle, survived.

In 1987, surviving band members reunited for a “tribute tour,” prompting litigation that led to the consent order.

The plaintiffs, who include representatives of the estates of Ronnie Van Zant, Gaines and late guitarist Allen Collins, said they had issued a cease-and-desist letter last summer to halt the defendants’ plan for a movie titled “Free Bird.”

They said that while Pyle, who left the band in 1991, “is free to exploit his own personal life story,” the retitled movie would destroy their right to use the name and history of Lynyrd Skynyrd, causing “incalculable” loss and irreparable harm.

Such a movie “may contain a potentially inaccurate or skewed portrayal of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s story as filtered solely through the eyes of Pyle masquerading as the ‘True Story’ of a defining moment in the band’s history,” the plaintiffs said.

“Street Survivors” is now being edited, and could be ready for theaters in 2018, Perera said.

The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet, who oversaw the 1988 consent order.

The case is Ronnie Van Zant Inc et al v. Pyle et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 17-03360.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Steve Orlofsky)

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