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Iconic composer and music mogul Quincy Jones, who produced Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad, was calm and cool on Wednesday as a Los Angeles courtroom jury awarded him $9.4 million in the trial against Jackson’s estate, claiming he was cheated out of royalties after the King of Pop died in 2009.
The award is not the $30 million the legendary producer was hoping for, but the amount reflects more than what the Jackson estate believed they should pay him. Jones, dressed in a gray suit and wearing a lavender dress shirt, looked at a verdict form and paid close attention during the verdict reading.
In a statement given to The Hollywood Reporter, Jones said, “As an artist, maintaining the vision and integrity of one’s creation is of paramount importance. I, along with the team I assembled with Michael, took great care and purpose in creating these albums, and it has always given me a great sense of pride and comfort that three decades after they were originally recorded, these songs are still being played in every corner of the world.”
He added: “This lawsuit was never about Michael, it was about protecting the integrity of the work we all did in the recording studio and the legacy of what we created. Although this judgment is not the full amount that I was seeking, I am very grateful that the jury decided in our favor in this matter. I view it not only as a victory for myself personally, but for artists’ rights overall.”
The deliberations, which began Monday afternoon after the closing arguments ended, cappped the three-week trial after Jones’ years-long fight to prove that he was denied at least $30 million in royalties. Jones sued MJJ Productions in 2013, claiming that he was owed significant money and that he was wrongfully excluded from having the option to remix works he created with Jackson.
Following the verdict, Howard Weitzman and Zia Modabber, attorneys for the estate of Michael Jackson, said Jones should not have received the sum. “While the jury denied Quincy Jones $21 million – or more than two-thirds of what he demanded — from The Estate of Michael Jackson, we still believe that giving him millions of dollars that he has no right to receive under his contracts is wrong,” the pair said in a statement issued to Billboard.
The statement continues, “This would reinterpret the legal language in, and effectively rewrite, contracts that Mr. Jones lived under for more than three decades, admitted he never read, referred to as “contract, montract,” and told the jurors he didn’t “give a damn” about. Any amount above and beyond what is called for in his contracts is too much and unfair to Michael’s heirs. Although Mr. Jones is portraying this as a victory for artists’ rights, the real artist is Michael Jackson and it is his money Mr. Jones is seeking.”
Prior to the verdict, the estate had already conceded Jones was owed royalties of less than $400,000 due to accounting error but argued that the producer was not entitled to $30 million. Since Jackson’s death, Jones has received about $18 million in royalties, according to court testimony given during the trial.
During the trial, jurors heard testimony from accounting experts, attorneys, music specialists, royalties specialists and the 84-year-old Jones, who took the stand last week to tell his story. Charming in demeanor yet bold in his assertions that he was cheated out of millions, Jones spoke in court about his significant contributions to Jackson’s musical catalog, which includes the ownership of the masters that are now managed by the estate.
Regardless of what the contracts said, Jones declared, the right thing has always been to pay him for his work, which has been exploited since Jackson’s death. “Contract, montract,” said Jones during his first day on the stand last week. “If we made the record, we deserve to get paid.” The albums in question were Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad and the This Is It soundtrack, in addition to two Cirque du Soleil shows.
Two contracts from 1978 and 1985 were at the center of the dispute between Jones and Jackson, with specific wording that at times seemed to have a variety of interpretations. The deals indicate that Jones is entitled to a share of record royalties from Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad. However, the dispute intensified because Jones believes that he should have always received shares from the profits of Jackson’s 1991 joint venture with Sony. Additionally, Jones said he was also entitled to net profits from movies instead of licensing fees from the songs used in those projects.
Jones argued that the This Is It documentary concert film, which opened in theaters four months after Jackson’s death, counted as a “video show” under his contract, which would have entitled him to a share of the net receipts. The Jackson legal team argued that the term is standard for music and irrelevant in Jones’ appeal.
The jury had to closely examine Jones’ contract, which indicates that the producer has the right of first refusal to remix any of the works he produced with Jackson, but the Jackson attorneys maintained that Jones’ right was limited to remixes ordered by Sony at the time the albums were being produced.
Before deliberations began, Los Angeles Superior Court judge Michael A. Stern instructed the jury to consider the actions of the parties from the time that the contract was signed until the time when the dispute was initiated as a way to interpret what the words of the contract meant during that period. That directive played a key factor in the jury’s final decisions as they looked at Jones, Jackson and MJJ and how they treated the business relationship from 1985 to 2013.
In a recent exclusive interview with Billboard, Jackson estate attorney Howard Weitzman said an appeal could be an option if the award handed to Jones was substantial.
“If he gets [major] money, obviously there is a process post-trial,” Weitzman said. “We’ll take advantage of all that and sometime in the future if there is no relief there, then he’ll get paid.”
July 26, 6:23 p.m.: Updated to include Jones’ statement.
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