In a statement after the ruling, Evan Mandel, a lawyer for Cleopatra Films, called the decision “a victory for filmmakers, artists, journalists, readers, viewers and the marketplace of ideas.” He added, “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.”
Mr. Mandel said that the film, which cost $1.5 million, had been shot and was in postproduction, with a release planned for summer 2019.
Representatives for the band declined to comment. Lawyers for the plaintiffs, who can still appeal Wednesday’s ruling, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Pyle left the band in 1991 and was not involved in the appeal. According to court papers, he has described the film as “MY story,” one “not just about the plane crash but also about my personal relationship with the genius that was Ronnie Van Zant, whom I loved like a brother and still miss to this day.”
In an interview in 2013, Mr. Pyle said he remained close with Mr. Rossington but added, “Gary is surrounded by some very sinister people, motivated by money, trying to milk every single penny out of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and they use Gary to do it.”
Cleopatra, in its appeal, also argued that it had a First Amendment right to “produce and distribute a dramatic film depicting, describing and/or based upon true, historical events, as it sees fit.” Given the First Amendment argument, which invoked the constitutional doctrine of prior restraint that prohibits government censorship of material before publication, multiple news and entertainment organizations joined Cleopatra’s legal cause.
However, even in overturning the decision, the court of appeals ruled that this was not a First Amendment violation because “no government entity has obtained a court order to prevent the making or release” of the film. Still, the ruling added, the earlier decision did restrain “the viewing of an express work prior to its public availability, and courts should always be hesitant to prove such an injunction.”
The appeals court ruling also overturned the earlier decision that said Cleopatra and Mr. Pyle would be required to pay the plaintiffs at least $632,110.91 in legal fees.