MJ Live, a long-running tribute act in Las Vegas to the late Michael Jackson, is taking legal action against Michael Jackson’s estate. Since 2012, MJ Live has been putting on nightly shows starring a Michael Jackson impersonator in Sin City and tours other cities as well —that was until the estate sent cease-and-desist letters to six venues in different states, urging them to cancel tour dates.
Now the show’s organizers are fighting back. On Jan. 17, MJ Live sought a judicial intervention, Billboard reported.
The executors of the estate are veteran entertainment lawyer and manager John Gregory Branca and accountant John McClain.
The MJ Live production company is hoping for a judicial ruling that would allow it to continue hosting their concerts featuring a Michael Jackson impersonator. These performances take place six nights a week at the Tropicana and are part of a larger circuit that includes venues statewide and internationally.
According to reports from Radar, the Jackson estate has issued cease-and-desist letters to a minimum of six venues in various locations, urging them to cancel scheduled tour dates for MJ Live.
MJ Live is not affiliated with the estate-managed Broadway production, “MJ: The Musical.” The estate, currently gearing up for a tour of the musical, may be prompted to take action due to this distinction.
The estate’s decision to issue a cease-and-desist to MJ Live is puzzling because the tribute show has been running for over 3,600 performances since 2012.
“This lawsuit – including the claim that this impersonator show somehow owns a ‘trademark’ in ‘MJ,’ a trademark owned by Michael Jackson’s Estate and long associated with Michael and his Estate – is beyond frivolous. The Estate, as always, will vigorously defend all intellectual property rights of Michael Jackson,” Jackson estate’s attorney Jonathan Steinsapir said in statement reported by Billboard.
In addition to the speculation about the estate’s legal action being influenced by an upcoming Broadway tour, another potential explanation for the timing of the lawsuit is Nevada’s unique state likeness laws. These laws have a notable exception allowing the legal use of a celebrity’s likeness for “impersonators in live performances,” possibly acknowledging the well-established tradition of Elvis Presley impersonators in Las Vegas. Citing this statute and the protection afforded by the First Amendment for free speech, MJ Live asserts a legal right to continue “impersonating Michael Jackson” in its performances.
MJ Live boasts two Jackson impersonators, Jalles Franca, and Santana Jackson, both fervently billing themselves as the ultimate devotees of their idol. Jackson, who coincidentally shares the same last name, has toured globally as the beloved pop star for more than 14 years and won the “Entertainer of the Year” award from the national nonprofit organization Win-Win Entertainment.
Another Estate Battle
At 93 years old, Katherine Jackson holds a 40 percent stake in the estate. She receives a monthly stipend of $67,000, which gets allocated to funding her adult children, Jermaine, Rebbie and La Toya, The New York Daily News reported.
Katherine remains vigilant in safeguarding how Michael Jackson’s estate capitalizes on his legacy and name licensing since his death in 2009.
Katherine is requesting more than $500,000 in attorney’s fees from the estate for contesting an undisclosed and reportedly highly profitable deal orchestrated by the estate’s executors.
In addition fighting against the secret deals that Branca and McCain have been excluding her from, Katherine finds herself entangled in financial troubles as the state of California Franchise Tax Board has filed a tax lien against her. The lien pertains to unpaid taxes spanning four years, from 2018 to 2021, amounting to a staggering $909,263.94. This financial obligation was linked to Katherine’s Calabasas residence.