2ND UPDATE, 12:22 PM, with details: Michael Jackson’s estate has upped the ante in its beef with ABC over the network’s airing of primetime special The Last Days of Michael Jackson. The estate today filed a lawsuit against the network and its parent Disney that claims ABC used the late singer’s songs, films and videos for the show without permission.
The filing claims the two-hour ABC News special, which aired Thursday, used chunks of the King of Pop’s songs including “Bad” and “Billie Jean” and included snippets of the iconic “Thriller” video and others.
“The extent of Disney’s use of the Estate’s intellectual property in The Last Days of Michael Jackson is truly astounding,” reads the 18-page filing in federal court in California today (read it here). “The program used dozens of copyrighted works owned by the Estate, but obtained no license. In fact, Disney-owned ABC never even approached the Estate to seek a license or let the Estate know what it was doing,”
The jury-seeking filing from lawyers at Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldsert LLPgoes on to take a legal verbal hammer to Disney and ABC’s logic behind the supposedly unauthorized usage in a news context.
“Disney’s fair use argument is patently absurd,” the Hollywood heavyweight law firm argues. “Even setting aside Disney’s blatant hypocrisy given its notorious history regarding third-party uses of its own copyrights, Disney’s argument here is one that would probably make even the founders of Napster pause.”
Besides everything else, just try to think the last time you heard the term “Napster” anywhere.
“We have not yet had an opportunity to review the complaint,” an ABC News spokesperson told Deadline today. “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,” they added of a complaint they had supposedly not reviewed.
UPDATED, May 23, 4:28 PM: ABC News has responded to the Michael Jackson estate’s claim that the network didn’t secure rights to te late singer’s music and other IP that it used for Thursday’s primetime special The Last Days of Michael Jackson. In a statement to Deadline, an ABC News spokesman said: “ABC News’ documentary explores the life, career and legacy of Michael Jackson, who remains of great interest to people worldwide. The program does not infringe on his estate’s rights, but as a courtesy, we removed a specific image from the promotional material.”
PREVIOUSLY, 1:13 PM: ABC’s special titled The Last Days of Michael Jackson airs Thursday, and today the late singer’s estate is decrying the network’s “crass and unauthorized attempt to exploit the life, music and image” of the King of Pop.
In a statement, it claims that ABC is using “music and other intellectual property owned by the Estate … without having licensed the rights to any such material.”
It adds, “Imagine if this was done with any of ABC’s intellectual property.”
The statement does not say whether the estate plans legal action to halt tomorrow night’s broadcast, however. Read the full statement below.
The estate also notes that the ABC News primetime special “is not sponsored or approved by the Estate of Michael Jackson” and says the network was using “a copyrighted photo and silhouette image” to promote the show but removed after attorneys demanded that it do so.
Deadline has reached out to ABC for comment.
Here is the estate’s full statement:
We want consumers to know that The Last Days of Michael Jackson, a television special airing on ABC TV (a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company) tomorrow May 24, is not sponsored or approved by the Estate of Michael Jackson. It is particularly disheartening that Disney, a company known to strongly believe in protecting its own IP rights, would choose to ignore these rights belonging to the Estate.
ABC was using a copyrighted photo and silhouette image owned by the Estate in the trailers and promotional material for the special. Only after notice from our attorneys to ABC News indicating they were infringing on our IP rights were the materials removed. We are told ABC intends to use music and other intellectual property owned by the Estate such as photos, logos, artwork, and more in the program itself, without having licensed the rights to any such material. Imagine if this was done with any of ABC’s intellectual property. 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.