Michael Jackson’s estate and Sony Music have ended an eight-year lawsuit filed by a fan accusing the music label of releasing songs allegedly sung by an impersonator after the superstar’s death.
“Regardless of how the Supreme Court may rule, the parties to the lawsuit mutually decided to end the litigation, which would have potentially included additional appeals and a lengthy trial court process,” Sony and Jackson’s estate said in a joint statement to Billboard.
Following Jackson’s death in 2009, his estate and Sony Music released “Michael,” a compilation album featuring previously unreleased tracks by Jackson. The album debuted at number three on the Billboard 200, with first-week sales reaching 228,000 copies.
However, songs such as “Breaking News” were immediately questioned by several of Jackson’s family members and fans.
“Deceptively merging shady vocals with MJ samples (from prior MJ records) will never fool me,” TJ Jackson, son of Michael’s brother Tito Jackson, wrote on Twitter. “I’m disgusted, disappointed, and saddened.”
Jackson’s sister, LaToya, told TMZ, “I listened to it…It doesn’t sound like him.”
Sony Music responded in a statement that it had “complete confidence in the results of our extensive research, as well as the accounts of those who were in the studio with Michael, that the vocals on the new album are his own.”
In June 2014, Vera Serova, a Jackson fan, filed a class action lawsuit against Jackson’s estate and Sony Music for violating consumer laws, fraud and unfair competition. Serova alleged that Jackson’s estate and Sony Music used a Jackson impersonator as a vocalist on three tracks appearing on the posthumous album “Michael.” Serova’s complaint was supported by forensic phonetician Dr. George Papcun, who questioned the authenticity of vocals on several songs. Lawsuit records revealed Papcun’s report was peer-reviewed and further supported by a credentialed independent audio expert.
The defendants argued that they had a constitutional right to attribute them to Jackson using the First Amendment defense. By 2016, the judge ordered that the case proceeds to class certification, refusing to grant the defendant’s motion.
In 2018, a judge ruled that while it was unclear if Jackson sang the songs, neither the estate nor Sony was liable for any charges filed by the fan. The case was appealed in several courts before landing in California’s Supreme Court in 2020.
Arguments began in May. Last week, however, the estate and music label decided to reach a settlement, thus ending their lawsuit formally. The terms of the settlement have not been made public.
Songs Removed From Music Platforms
In July, Sony pulled the three songs in question –” Breaking News,” “Keep Your Head Up,” and “Monster” — from Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube Music.
A spokesperson for the estate argued, “I should point out that the removal of these three songs has nothing to do with their authenticity,” adding, “the Estate and Sony Music believe the continuing conversation about the tracks is distracting the fan community and casual Michael Jackson listeners from focusing their attention where it should be – on Michael’s legendary and deep music catalog.”
When the lawsuit was recently settled, Jackson’s estate and Sony Music argued that the removal of songs from various streaming services offered “the simplest and best way to move beyond the conversation associated with these tracks once and for all,” according to Billboard.
A Look At Jackson’s Estate
When Jackson died in 2009, he was in serious debt, but was worth an estimated $500 million. Since his death, his estate has earned more than $700 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth.
In 2016, Sony Music gained the rights to Jackson’s music catalog for $750 million, allowing the estate to repay past debts.