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 and related paperwork were made public on Friday in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan. A trial is scheduled for July 11, court records show.
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.
Surviving band members reunited in 1987 to organize a "tribute tour," prompting litigation that led to the consent order.
The plaintiffs, who also include representatives of the estates of Ronnie Van Zant, Gaines and late guitarist Allen Collins, sued after learning that Pyle and co-defendant Cleopatra Records Inc were making the movie.
They said that while Pyle, who left the band in 1991, "is free to exploit his own personal life story," the 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.
Pyle could not immediately be reached for comment. It is unclear whether he has hired a lawyer.
Evan Mandel, a lawyer for Cleopatra Records, said in a phone interview: "We are confident that our right to publish this film is guaranteed by the First Amendment."
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)