Quincy Jones' Lawsuit Against Michael Jackson Estate to Go to Trial

The legendary producer sued the artist's estate and Sony in 2013, claiming he was shorted royalties from posthumous releases.
Michael Jackson  AP Images

A $10 million lawsuit filed by producer Quincy Jones over projects made after Michael Jackson's death will proceed to trial this summer, after a judge denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment on Thursday.

In 2013 Jones sued Sony Entertainment and MJJ Productions, a song company controlled by the King of Pop's estate, claiming master recordings he worked on were wrongfully edited and remixed to deprive him of backend profit participation on works including the This Is It film and soundtrack album and the 25th anniversary edition of Bad.

Jones' attorney Henry Gradstein argued the movie "couldn't have been made without these recordings" and said tracks the Jackson Estate does not control were licensed at fair market value, but the ones they did were licensed for $50,000 despite being worth much more.

Judge Michael L. Stern said there are two basic contracts at issue and both sides' arguments are rely on fundamental contract law that "you learn in the first six months of law school" without any "diversions or frills."

Despite the simplicity of the arguments, Stern said there are factual disputes that are going to require extrinsic evidence — including how to define musical terms like "remix" and "coupling."

Many of Jackson's mega-hits, including "Thriller," "Beat It" and "Billy Jean," were re-edited for the projects. Jones says MJJ breached his contract by allowing third parties to exploit the works "without first providing a reasonable opportunity to Jones to perform such remixes and/or re-edits."

Defense counsel Zia F. Modabber argues "their position is they have the perpetual right to not have anyone else touch it without Mr. Jones' permission," although for years Jones did not complain about others remixing songs he produced for Jackson.

Modabber asked the court to remove Sony from the lawsuit on the grounds that any money paid to Jones would come from MMJ, not Sony, but Stern denied that request.

Stern also denied Gradstein's motion to amend their complaint saying "we've come too far" to make tweaks that aren't consequential.

It's also worth mentioning that of all the popular songs at issue in this case, Stern said he's only ever heard of one — although he didn't specify which.

After the hearing, Gradstein said "Quincy has a righteous case" and defendants' efforts to block it from proceeding to a jury were a "complete and utter failure."

Modabber had no comment after the hearing, other than, "We'll see what happens in June," alluding to the trial that is set for June 15.

The Jackson estate is also represented by Howard Weitzman.

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