Lynyrd Skynyrd film can be released: Appeals court

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<pA new Lynyrd Skynyrd film can be released despite a dispute over the band's intentions after a federal appeals court ruled in its favor Wednesday.

<pThe decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan came in a case involving a movie called "Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash."

<pA lower court judge decided previously the film violated a "blood oath" made by bandmembers not to exploit the group's name after a 1977 plane crash that killed its lead singer and songwriter, Ronnie Van Zant. The band's hits included "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Free Bird."

<pThe 2nd Circuit reversed that decision, saying the movie can be distributed.

<pEvan Mandel, an attorney for Cleopatra Entertainment, said the filmmaker "is thrilled" the three-judge panel protected the company's right to publish a film about Artimus Pyle's survival in the plane crash. Pyle is a former drummer with the pioneering 1970s southern rock band.

<p"The band fails to appreciate the irony of singing about freedom while attempting to use a secret gag order to prevent other artists from expressing views with which the band disagrees," said Mandel, representing Los Angeles-based Cleopatra Records Inc. and Cleopatra Films.

<p"The court's decision is a victory for filmmakers, artists, journalists, readers, viewers, and the marketplace of ideas," Mandel added.

<pThe lawsuit was brought by Van Zant's widow and others, including founding band member Allen Collins. Their lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

<pThe 2nd Circuit concluded a consent order meant to resolve a 1988 lawsuit over how the band's name could be used was insufficiently precise in its language to sustain an order blocking the film's distribution.

<pThe appeals court noted that the filmmaker was supported in its appeal by several journalism and entertainment organizations, highlighting First Amendment concerns.

<pBut the judges said those who believed it was a classic First Amendment violation involving an unlawful prior restraint were wrong.

<p"It is not," the appeals court said. "No government entity has obtained a court order to prevent the making or release of the film, … nor does the case involve a claim of defamation or invasion of privacy as to which the First Amendment imposes special requirements."

<pYet, the court said, the case does implicate free speech concerns, and courts should be hesitant to block the viewing of an expressive work such as a movie prior to its public availability.

<pIt also noted that Cleopatra did not sign the consent decree.