Michael Jackson Estate Sues Over TV Documentary

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The estate of Michael Jackson filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against The Walt Disney Company and ABC over the prime time special The Last Days of Michael Jackson, which aired last Thursday.

The lawsuit alleges that last week's special illegally used the estate’s copyrighted materials without its permission, including excerpts of Jackson’s hit songs, “Billie Jean” and “Beat It,” among others; substantial portions of Jackson’s music videos like “Thriller” and more; footage from Jackson’s live performances; a key moment from the 2016 Spike Lee-directed documentary, Michael Jackson’s Journey From Motown to Off the Wall; and unique footage from the 2009 film Michael Jackson’sThis Is It.

“Disney and ABC committed willful and intentional copyright infringement when they used the estate’s copyrighted materials without the estate’s permission," Howard Weitzman of Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert LLP, who, with his partner Jonathan Steinsapir, filed the lawsuit for the Jackson estate, said in a statement on Wednesday. "Disney’s conduct here was particularly surprising given that it has no tolerance for anyone using its copyrighted material in even the most trivial of manners."

"Disney and ABC’s conduct is also contrary to law and industry practice, and despite several cautionary letters from the estate to Disney and ABC attorneys," the statement continues. "Disney and ABC never sought the Jackson estate’s permission to use any of the material owned by the estate in the broadcast. Can you imagine using Disney’s intellectual property -- like Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, Star Wars, The Avengers, Toy Story, and so many other works -- without asking Disney’s permission or getting a license? The estate has no choice but to vigorously protect its intellectual property, which is the lifeblood of its business."

In a statement to ET on Wednesday, ABC said: "We have not yet had an opportunity to review the complaint.  The ABC News’ documentary explored the life, career and legacy of Michael Jackson, who remains of great interest to people worldwide, and did not infringe on his estate’s rights.”

The network previously responded to the estate slamming the documentary, and said it did not infringe on the Jackson estate’s rights.

“ABC News’ documentary explores the life, career and legacy of Michael Jackson, who remains of great interest to people worldwide,” an ABC News spokesperson told ET last Wednesday. “The program does not infringe on his estate’s rights, but as a courtesy, we removed a specific image from the promotional material.”

Last week, Jackson's estate issued a statement condemning The Last Days of Michael Jackson. "We believe the special to be another crass and unauthorized attempt to exploit the life, music and image of Michael Jackson without respect for Michael’s legacy, intellectual property rights or his children," the statement read.


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