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Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson estate arrive in court in royalties dispute

By | Published on Wednesday 12 July 2017

Michael Jackson

One potential juror declared that it was a “tragedy” that Quincy Jones was now embroiled in a legal battle with the Michael Jackson estate over royalties. Of the one time premiere league pop collaborators, she added: “Both of these men are musical geniuses”. Which is how you get yourself out of jury duty.

The legal battle between legendary producer Jones and the Michael Jackson company MJJ Productions, which is a defendant alongside long time ally Sony Music, has finally reached court. And a legal rep for the producer confirmed that his client reckons he is owed $30 million in unpaid royalties in relation to his work on some of Jackson’s biggest hits.

As previously reported, Jones sued MJJ and Sony back in 2013 in relation to various Jackson-orientated projects and deals that followed the late king of pop’s death in 2009, and which utilised music from albums produced by Jones. Those projects included the ‘This Is It’ film, two Cirque du Soleil productions and some album re-releases.

Jones’ lawsuit alleges that those projects breached agreements dating from 1978 and 1985 that gave him the first option to remix or remaster the records he produced. It also accused Sony and MJJ of constructing complicated deals around some of those ventures that meant more money went to the Jackson estate to the detriment of Jones.

MJJ tried to have the case dismissed twice but without success. Earlier this year, considering the second of those applications for dismissal, judge Michael L Stern concluded that there remained a number of outstanding issues that required more rigorous analysis of the available evidence, which in turn would require some proper court time.

Hence the trial that got underway yesterday. According to The Hollywood Reporter, with a jury selected it was Jones’ attorney Mike McKool who kicked things off, with a brief history of the producer’s music career, and then an overview of those old agreements that are at the heart of the case. He told the court that the problem began after Jackson’s untimely death in 2009. “The death of a superstar artist creates huge interest in his music”, he noted, and that – he argued – delivered a pay day for MJJ and Sony, but not Jones, who should also have been a beneficiary of the post-2009 arrangements.

Speaking for MJJ, lawyer Zia Modabber conceded that an audit had indeed confirmed that Jones had been underpaid the royalties he is due from his old producer contracts, but he said that the unpaid monies are a fraction of what is now being claiming.

Modabber then quibbled over a number of the terms in Jones’s contracts, arguing that the producer’s side were misrepresenting his client’s commitments, and that actually Jackson – and more recently his estate – had shared some income streams with Jones that weren’t even covered by his deals.

Noting that the case primarily swung on how certain old contract terms were now interpreted, he then pointed out that the actual deal maker on his side of the dispute is no longer with us. “Sadly, and unfortunately for us, you will only be getting Mr Jones’ version”, the lawyer said. “Mr Jones is asking for millions he didn’t earn and isn’t entitled to. He just wants it and hopes you’ll give it to him”.

The court case should last about three weeks.