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AUG
15
2 YEARS

Judge Shuts Down Michael Jackson Memorabilia Websites

The King of Pop's estate prevails on claims that Howard Mann has violated his intellectual property and exploited his persona after death.

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A California federal judge has handed Michael Jackson's estate a big victory against Howard Mann, a memorabilia collector who operated websites that trafficked in goods from the King of Pop.

Mann, a former business partner of Jackson's mother, Katherine, ran MichaelJacksonSecretVault.com, which sold rare artwork, photographs, sound recordings and other merchandise. John Branca and John McClain, the executors of the estate, sued Mann and his companies for violating intellectual property and exploiting the singer's likeness.

On Friday, U.S. District Court judge Dean Pregerson found the plaintiffs were entitled to summary judgment on their claims and has also issued a permanent injunction that shuts down Mann's MJ-related websites.

Mann obtained various Jackson items as the result of a bankruptcy sale more than a decade ago. At the time, the defendant obtained a monetary judgment against Jackson's parents and two of his brothers, and as a result, items including photographs and audio recordings came into Mann's possession. Soon after, Jackson objected, and in 2004, the singer brought a lawsuit against Mann when he set up a site called thejacksonvault.com.

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A court initially granted a preliminary objection against this website, but dismissed the action after Jackson had failed to prosecute.

Then, in 2009, after Jackson's death, Mann created new websites and displayed items including "key art" from the film, This Is It, an audio recording of Jackson's "Destiny," material from an anniversary release of Thriller, and as part of a corporate logo, an image of Jackson performing a dance move known as "Smooth Criminal Lean."

The Estate of Michael Jackson sued, claiming copyright and trademark infringement, misappropriation of publicity rights, unfair competition and cybersquatting.

Because of the property under his possession, Mann has described his Vintage Pop company in an interview with the Los Angeles Times as a "shadow estate" and has also made noise about having evidence that Jackson's will is fake.

But on Friday, Judge Pregerson rejected Mann's assertions of holding proper title on the works in question. The judge ruled "there is no genuine issue of material fact as to Jackson’s ownership of the intellectual property rights" and that "none of these rights were transferred through the bankruptcy sale."

The judge also waived away Mann's objections that the estate's claims were precluded by the 2004 lawsuit, finding there was no real adjudication of the IP ownership in that dispute.

“The Court’s order means that a trial set for September 4 will involve how much in damages the Michael Jackson Estate is entitled to collect from Mann and his various entities," said Howard Weitzman, lawyer for the estate.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com

Twitter: @eriqgardner