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Long-running lawsuit over disputed Michael Jackson vocals settled

By | Published on Thursday 11 August 2022

Michael Jackson

The long-running lawsuit over whether or not three songs that appeared on a posthumous Michael Jackson album actually featured the vocals of an impersonator has been settled. It follows the recent removal of those songs from said album on the streaming services.

Released in 2010, ‘Michael’ featured ten tracks that Jackson had started but not finished over his long career in music. Work on each track was completed by one of a team of producers, all led by Timbaland.

The three tracks that caused the controversy all originated from one recording session with producer Eddie Casci. Numerous people – including several members of the Jackson family – argued that the vocals on the final versions of those three tracks were not Jackson’s.

The Jackson estate, which worked with Sony Music’s Epic label on the album release, took those claims seriously and had its lawyer, Howard Weitzman, put out a letter to fans outlining the process that the estate and its major label partner had gone through in putting together ‘Michael’, and the work they had done in order to ensure the authenticity of the vocals.

None of that stopped one fan, Vera Serova, from going legal in 2014. A lawsuit targeting the estate and Sony Music – as well as Casci and his company – accused the defendants of misleading consumers by claiming Jackson’s vocals appeared on the three disputed tracks.

The litigation has been rumbling on ever since. Along the way the estate and Sony argued – with success on appeal – that they should be removed as defendants on free speech grounds.

Which meant a lot of court time was spent on the legal status of the album’s liner notes and what protections the estate and Sony enjoyed under the US Constitution’s First Amendment and California’s anti-SLAPP laws, rather than whether or not it was Jackson’s voice on those three tracks.

Serova continued to object to those free speech arguments, while the wider lawsuit also continued to work its way through the motions, most recently at the California Supreme Court. Then last month it emerged that the three disputed tracks were being removed from the streaming services.

At the time a spokesperson for the estate and Sony said: “The removal of these three songs has nothing to do with their authenticity. The [Jackson] estate and Sony Music believe the continuing conversation about the tracks is distracting the fan community and casual Michael Jackson listeners from focusing their attention where it should be – on Michael’s legendary and deep music catalogue”.

Now Serova’s lawsuit has also been settled, despite the California Supreme Court still to make any decision after hearing arguments from both sides back in May. In a statement to Billboard, the estate and Sony said: “Regardless of how the Supreme Court may rule, the parties to the lawsuit mutually decided to end the litigation, which would have potentially included additional appeals and a lengthy trial court process”.

Although the terms of the deal that has settled this long-running litigation are not known, the removal of the tracks were seemingly part of the settlement. The estate and Sony’s statement added that removing the songs was “the simplest and best way to move beyond the conversation associated with these tracks once and for all”.