3:55 PM: A spokesperson for ABC News tells The Blast, “We have not yet had an opportunity to review the complaint. 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 Jackson‘s estate has filed a lawsuit against ABC and The Walt Disney Company claiming they used MJ’s music for their recent TV special without permission.
According to court documents obtained by The Blast, the Jackson estate claims several of his most famous songs — including “Billie Jean,” “Bad,” “Thriller” and “Black or White” — were featured during last week’s “The Last Days of Michael Jackson.”
The lawsuit claims ABC also used clips from a documentary and feature film that belong to the estate.
“Disney used this music without obtaining required permissions from both the owners of the sound recordings (the Estate) and the owner of the musical compositions (the Estate for most songs, and third parties for a few others),” the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, a lawyer for Disney told the Jackson estate that they were allowed to fair use the music and footage because the special was “a documentary.”
The estate argues, “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. Disney’s music could play in the background to the narrator and the interviews.”
The Jackson estate takes things a step further and invokes the same idea and applies it to “Star Wars,” saying:
Likewise, if Disney’s position on fair use of the Estate’s copyrights were accepted, one could create a two-hour documentary about the Star Wars franchise, by summarizing each film and using extensive clips from each film while playing the iconic Star Wars music in the background of interviews and narration, and all without permission from Disney. We are confident that Disney would not react kindly to attempts by others to create such projects without getting permission from Disney and paying Disney for the use of its property.
The estate voiced their concerns over the special before it aired, saying, “We want consumers to know that The Last Days of Michael Jackson, a television special airing on ABC TV (a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company) tomorrow May 24th, is not sponsored or approved by the Estate of Michael Jackson.”
ABC News responded to the estate’s objections, saying, “The program does not infringe on his estate’s rights, but as a courtesy, we removed a specific image from the promotional material.”
They are suing for copyright infringement and are seeking unspecified damages.