The network recently aired a special chronicling the last days of the pop superstar, but Jackson's Estate, which is controlled by several companies, has filed a suit against both. The suit statues that they were "genuinely shocked" after watching the special, calling it "a mediocre look back at Michael Jackson's life and entertainment career," and also state that Disney swiped the Estate's intellectual property (via The Wrap).
"Unable to make a compelling presentation about Michael Jackson on its own, Disney decided to exploit the Jackson Estate's intellectual property without permission or obtaining a license for its use. After all, there is always a healthy audience for Michael Jackson's timeless music, his ground-breaking videos, and footage of his unforgettable live performances. Why not just use Michael Jackson's works if one can get advertisers to buy time on the program? But in order to use these valuable assets, a license must be obtained for it by the Estate," the suit reads.
Specifically, they call out sizable portions of Jackson's songs Billy Jean, Beat It, and Don't Stop Til You Get Enough, as well as parts of his Thriller and Black or White music videos. Also listed as examples of copyright infringement are photos, logos, artwork, and more.
"Like Disney, the lifeblood of the Estate's business is its intellectual property," the suit reads. "Yet for some reason, Disney decided it could just use the Estate's most valuable intellectual property for free. Apparently, Disney's passion for the copyright laws disappears when it doesn't involve its own intellectual property and it sees an opportunity to profit off of someone else's intellectual property without permission or payment. The extent of Disney's use of the Estate's intellectual property in The Last Days of Michael Jackson is truly astounding."
The suit also states that Jackson's Estate reached out to Disney once they found out about the project, but Disney's attorney said all of it fell under fair use since the special was a documentary.
"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," the suit reads.
Before the special aired the Jackson Estate released a statement saying "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."2comments
A spokesperson for ABC responded to the Jackson Estate's claims, saying "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."
We'll keep you updated as more information is released.