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Pop Star Michael Jackson attends an event at the Ethiopian...

Source: Stephen J. Boitano / Getty

Michael Jackson’s estate has filed a lawsuit against ABC and The Walt Disney Company claiming that they used the late icon’s music for their recent TV special without permission. The company and network are being sued for willfully and intentionally infringing on copyrights owned by the estate used on The Last Days of Michael Jackson, which aired last week. According to court documents obtained by The Blast, the Jackson estate claims several of the singer’s famed records were used, including “Billie Jean,” “Bad,” “Thriller” and “Black or White.”

The lawsuit says, “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).” Meanwhile, according to the lawsuit, a lawyer for Disney told the Estate that they were allowed to use the music and footage because the special was a “documentary.” The estate, however, argues that “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 Estate continued, “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. 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, saying, “The program does not infringe on his estate’s rights, but as a courtesy, we removed a specific image from the promotional material.”
  • A spokesperson for ABC News also told 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.”

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