Michael Jackson Estate Slaps Disney with Copyright Infringement Lawsuit
The Michael Jackson Estate has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the Walt Disney Co. for allegedly using the late pop icon’s music and videos in an ABC television special without permission.
According to Variety, the Estate is upset over the March 24 airing of The Last Days of Michael Jackson TV special on ABC, which is owned by Disney. They alleged in their suit that the producers used songs including “Billie Jean,” “The Girl Is Mine” and “Beat It” along with videos such as “Thriller” and portions from the MJ concert documentary, This Is It.
The Estate claims that Disney attorneys never contacted them to used the videos and music for their special. When they raised the copyright issue to their attention, Disney allegedly contended that since the special is a documentary, they could use the footage under the “fair use” doctrine.
However, the Estate's attorney, Howard Weitzman, finds Disney's assertions “patently absurd,” especially in light of the company's aggressive enforcement of its own copyrights.
“If Disney’s position on fair use of the Estate’s copyrights were accepted, a network, studio, or producer could make a documentary about Walt Disney, and spend most of the documentary’s time using, without Disney’s permission, extensive clips of Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney, and Disney movies,” Weitzman wrote.
“Disney is obviously aware of the copyright laws,” he continued. “Disney knows that permission from the copyright owner must be obtained before using copyright works, particularly in commercial projects like the one at issue here. Disney did not do that."
In a statement to Variety, an ABC rep said the company has yet to review the allegations in the lawsuit.
“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,” the spokesman said.
The Last Days of Michael Jackson attracted 5.6 million viewers when it aired on March 24. The special also featured unaired interviews by both former ABC News journalists Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer.