Quincy Jones Files $10M Lawsuit Over Michael Jackson Music (Exclusive)
The producer of the singer's most famous work alleges "clandestine agreements" intended to deprive him of full royalties owed from posthumous releases.
Quincy Jones has filed a $10 million breach-of-contract lawsuit in connection with Michael Jackson projects released after the singer's death.
The legendary producer -- who has won 27 Grammy Awards and produced the King of Pop's best-selling albums including Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad -- is going to war with Sony Music Entertainment and MJJ Productions, a song company controlled by the icon's estate. At issue are works including the This Is It film and soundtrack album, the Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil productions and the 25th anniversary edition of the Bad album.
In a complaint filed on Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court and obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, Jones alleges that master recordings he worked on were wrongfully edited and remixed so as to deprive him of backend profit participation. Jones also asserts that he has been denied credit for his work on the singer's posthumous releases and that MJJ and Sony have entered into side deals taking profits that should have been included in the calculation of royalties.
"Quincy has been frustrated with these matters for a number of years, felt he was not making any progress and needed to take more formal action," says Henry Gradstein, his attorney.
Jones made agreements with Jackson in 1978 and 1985 for work on the singer's solo albums. The contracts are said to have stipulated that Jones be given the first opportunity to re-edit or remix any of the master recordings, that the coupling of master recordings with other recordings required his prior written consent, and that he be given producer credit for each of the master recordings. The deal also entitled the producer to additional compensation -- including upfront payment and a "backend" percentage -- in the event of remixed masters.
After the producer was hired, Jackson signed a recording agreement with Epic Records, a subsidiary of Sony. The record deal entitled Jones to payments, credit, the approval of biographical material and regular accounting. Jones contends that he is a third-party beneficiary of this recording agreement.
After Jackson's death on June 25, 2009, the King of Pop had a resurgence of popularity, and the executors of his estate and those who had control over his work attempted to exploit the public's appetite for new works. That October, Columbia Pictures released This Is It, from AEG Live and The Michael Jackson Company, which showed preparations for what would have been the singer's last concert tour. Two years later, Cirque du Soleil premiered a traveling theatrical show entitled "Michael Jackson: The Immortal Tour," which has grossed an estimated $300 million to date. This past May, Cirque du Soleil came out with a new production entitled "Michael Jackson: One." Soundtracks for both the film and the Cirque du Soleil productions have also been released.
The film and its soundtrack included re-edits of songs like "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," "She's Out of My Life," "Thriller," "Beat It," "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'," and "Billy Jean." The Cirque du Soleil production and album included re-edits of many of those songs as well as "Burn the Disco Out," "Workin' Day and Night," "Baby Be Mine" and more.
Jones says the terms of his deal were breached when MJJ allowed third parties to exploit these works "without first providing a reasonable opportunity to Jones to perform such remixes and/or re-edits."
Then, the complaint goes into "clandestine agreements" allegedly made that had the effect of reducing Jones' royalties.
The lawsuit states Jones' belief that the Jackson parties "secretly entered into a venture agreement with Sony" where Sony and the Jackson Label would share profits. But Jones also alleges that rights to the master recordings "reverted from Sony to MJJ" and albums featuring the performances of Jackson were "distributed by the Jackson Label, instead of Sony, including albums embodying one or more of the Masters."
Thus, the defendants are charged with an effort to "divert" revenues to MJJ and "disguise" the revenues as "profits" instead of "royalties."
According to the lawsuit, "By removing such Disguised Royalties from the pool of revenues upon which Jones' royalties are calculated, MJJ purposely reduces the royalties … payable to Jones under both of the Agreements."
The lawsuit alleges another secret agreement between Sony and producers of the This Is It film. Sony-owned master recordings were licensed, but the deal allegedly "divides the compensation payable to Sony into one portion designated for the master use licenses (the "Master Use License Fees") and another portion paid directly to MJJ (the "Additional Fees").
This is another way that Jones figures he's been deprived of royalties due to him, and it's further said that "the Master Use License Fees do not represent the fair market value, negotiated in good faith, to license the masters used in the Film."
Jones is seeking at least $10 million in damages for breach of contract, and less specifically, he wants unpaid royalties due to him, remixing fees that would otherwise have been paid, and compensation for the loss of the value of credit he would have received. He's also demanding an accounting.
in a statement to THR, Howard Weitzman, lawyer for the Michael Jackson Estate, says the estate "was saddened to learn that Quincy Jones has filed a lawsuit seeking money from Michael's estate. To the best of its knowledge, Mr. Jones has been appropriately compensated over approximately 35 years for his work with Michael."