Remember the time when Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones were a power duo, churning out music that rocked our world? Jones produced Michael’s Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad albums. Jones and the rest of musical world were devastated by the King of Pop’s untimely death in June 2009.
Luckily for fans, Michael’s death spurred the release of new material from and inspired by MJ; material that Jones claimed he was owed royalties based on contracts dating back to 1978 and 1985. As producer of Michael’s albums, Jones was granted rights and royalties to the music he produced, including the right of first refusal for reediting or remixing songs. Jones claimed that not only was he not consulted by companies such as MJJ Productions and Sony prior to the release of material containing edited music, but he was not paid royalties in full. Though Quincy has received $8 million in royalties since 2009, taking his cue from Michael, Jones was not going to stop till he got enough, and sued Michael’s Estate seeking $30 million in damages.
Material at the heart of the suit included, This Is It, a concert movie and documentary that was released just a few months after Michael’s death. Gross receipts from the film topped $500 million, with Jackson’s estate allegedly receiving $90 million. Additionally, the Cirque du Soleil production, Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour, was performed for over 2 million audience members and earned over $300 million. Michael Jackson One, the Cirque production at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, continues to wow audiences 5 times a week.
As trial was getting underway, Jones made an off the wall allegation of elder financial abuse; a cause of action dismissed by the judge as being too late to include in the case. Jones may have been getting a little greedy, but perhaps that’s just human nature. After the refusal, Jones’ attorneys got down to business and made the case out to be a very black and white breach of contract.
Jones should be pleased with his award of $9.4 million (as Michael’s Estate alleged he was owed less than $400,000). Jones’ case is a great example of why it is so important to have clear and concise contract terms, including those regarding royalties and audit rights in the event of a dispute. These types of disputes are more common than some may think; particularly for video/infomercial production companies. Be sure to consult with an attorney when negotiating or attempting to collect royalties.