June 27, 2014 6:05pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Michael Jackson Documentary Featuring 'Private' Footage Triggers Lawsuit (Exclusive)
The production company behind Michael Jackson: The Last Photo Shoot has filed a lawsuit against the executors of the late singer's estate.
At the center of this dispute is never-before-seen footage taken of Jackson in 2007, two years before he died.
Craig Williams, the film's director, has described the footage as having been taken at the Brooklyn Museum of Art for Ebony magazine as Jackson attempted to make a comeback and gave his first magazine interview in a decade. Michael Jackson: The Last Photo Shoot features interviews with the singer's friends, photographers and stylists as Jackson prepared. The documentary also shows, of course, images of Jackson.
But Howard Weitzman, attorney for the Michael Jackson estate, tells The Hollywood Reporter that the images are private.
"The makers of the documentary are attempting to exploit footage and photographs of Michael Jackson, which we believe are owned by his Estate," says Weitzman. "The documentary contains footage of Michael during private moments that he never agreed could be publicly and commercially exploited without his consent and/or involvement. Michael never authorized or approved the use of this material in the film.”
Noval Williams Films asserts that it has validly obtained rights.
According to its complaint filed in New York federal court, the Jackson camp was offered the opportunity to purchase rights in 2011, but passed. In May, 2013, Williams stepped up to allegedly acquire rights. More deals were then made by Williams' company with distributors.
But about two months ago, Weitzman wrote a letter to the production company stating that the singer had allowed the footage be taken for his own use and that the footage was done as a "work-for-hire," meaning that Jackson should be considered the author for copyright purposes.
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The production company responded that it had legally acquired rights, prompting the Jackson estate lawyer to make another demand to see the film.
Now, the documentary maker has decided to go to court seeking declaratory relief that it isn't infringing copyrights and that the defendant doesn't have a valid claim arising from the contracts by which the images were first created.