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Michael Jackson estate sues ABC over documentary

By | Published on Thursday 31 May 2018

Michael Jackson

The Michael Jackson estate has sued American TV network ABC and its parent company Disney over a documentary about the late king of pop called ‘The Last Days Of Michael Jackson’, which aired last week.

The estate had already criticised the documentary ahead of its broadcast, partly because it hadn’t been consulted about the programme. Though even then representatives said they suspected the show would infringe the estate’s intellectual property.

Having now seen the programme, the estate has written up a list of all the copyrights it reckons ABC infringed, and filed said list with the LA courts yesterday in the form of a copyright infringement action. The list includes Jackson’s tracks and music videos, concert footage, and extracts from the ‘This Is It’ movie and a documentary the estate itself commissioned back in 2016.

Confirming the litigation, lawyer Howard Weitzman told reporters: “Disney and ABC committed wilful and intentional copyright infringement when they used the estate’s copyrighted materials without the estate’s permission. Disney and ABC’s conduct is … contrary to law and industry practice … [they] never sought the Jackson estate’s permission to use any of the material owned by the estate in the broadcast”.

The lawyer then referenced Disney’s reputation as a prolific defender of its own intellectual property rights, accusing the entertainment conglom of double standards. He said: “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”.

He went on: “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 licence? The estate has no choice but to vigorously protect its intellectual property, which is the lifeblood of its business”.

Although ABC hasn’t responded to the lawsuit, when the estate raised IP issues ahead of the programme’s airing, the broadcaster said that ‘The Last Days Of Michael Jackson’ was a news programme and therefore its use of third party materials were legal. Which presumably means the telly firm will enter a big fat ‘fair use’ defence to the action.