Oops…. Disney sued by Michael Jackson Estate

Infringement and apparently wilful and intentional according to the estate of Michael Jackson regarding The Last Days of Michael Jackson documentary by ABC. The law suit is reported to have over 30 claims filed. Some include the “significant and repeated” use of parts of classic songs such ‘Bad’, ‘Beat it’, and the legendary ‘Billie Jean’ track. Also, videos to hits such as ‘Black or White’ and ‘Thriller’ had portions used as well, and parts from the estates own documentaries that were made back in 2009, and another in 2016.

It appears that Disney and ABC hadn’t ever asked for permission to use the footage or music. In fact, the lawyers, Kinsella Weitzman, who filed the suit on behalf of the estate said “Disney and ABC never sought the Jackson Estate’s permission to use any of the material owned by the estate in the broadcast. 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.”

Because this has been filed in the US, the fair use principle is broader and more permissive than the much more limited defences available in most European states, where the full use of copyrighted songs or extended clips will virtually never satisfy this defence. It is generally a matter of fact, degree and impression in each case as to how a fair-minded person may use the copyrighted work.

A spokesperson for ABC News has only commented by saying “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.”

Michael Colledge who is a senior associate of Russell-Cooke has said that “Whether this argument is successful may depend on how much of the copyright material has been used, using entire songs or lengthy clips is less likely to constitute fair use.” He also added that rightsholders such as the Michael Jackson Estate may find it impossible to be aware of copyright infringement of the King of Pop’s work until it is actually published for the world to see. He then said that it may be an idea for future infringement cases to be avoided, there could be web-alerts available to notify rightsholders to be aware of what is being done and then respond accordingly before things like this happen.

We shall watch closely to see how this matter pans out…..

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