The case is Van Zandt v. Cleopatra Records, decided on October 10. The district court said Pyle violated the consent order, and plaintiffs were awarded over $600,000 in legal fees. That victory has now been taken away by the Second Circuit (Carney, Hall and Newman), which carefully analyzes that order under First Amendment principles in holding that the order is internally inconsistent, or at least insufficiently specific, such that, under its terms, "Pyle is permitted to make a movie that describes his experiences with Lynyrd Skynyrd and to refer to the band, but he may not make a movie that is a history of the band." To phrase the issue that way is to answer it.
As the Court of Appeals sees it, the script for the movie "illustrates the inconsistency, or at least the insufficient specificity, of the terms of the Consent Order."
The script tells the story of the plane crash in which Ronnie and other members of the band were killed and from which Pyle walked away. That 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 of a consent decree 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.Two judges concur, stating that the movie script does not exceed the authority that the consent decree. Under the decree,
Each of the Individual Defendants . . . shall have the right to exploit his . . . own respective life story in any manner or medium, including . . . [a] motion picture [and] shall have the right to refer to “Lynyrd Skynyrd” and related matters and to describe and portray his experience(s) with “Lynyrd Skynyrd;” provided that no such exploitation of life story rights is authorized which purports to be a history of the “Lynyrd Skynyrd” band, as opposed to the life story of the applicable individual.”Reviewing the script page by page, the two judges (Newman and Hall) say the movie is mostly about Pyle's life, which happens to include his extraordinary experience with the band (surviving a plane crash). The judges conclude:
Clearly, the plane crash and Pyle’s escape from it are a major experience of his life. Because the plane was carrying members of the band, two of whom were killed, it would have been impossible for Cleopatra to depict this experience of Pyle’s without some references to the band. The script does not portray the history of the band. It portrays an experience from Pyle’s life, precisely what section 3 of the Consent Order explicitly permits, and, in doing so, it refers to the band, as section 3 also explicitly permits.