8:30am PT by Eriq Gardner
Disney Settles Michael Jackson Estate's Suit Over ABC's 'Last Days' Special
Disney and the Michael Jackson Estate have come to a resolution concerning ABC's The Last Days of Michael Jackson, which premiered in May 2018 and used excerpts from This Is It and other works from the singer, including music videos for "Thriller" and "Black or White."
Soon after the two-hour documentary aired, various Michael Jackson-related outfits brought a copyright complaint with sharp words about Disney's wide-ranging efforts over the years to protect its own intellectual property. The suit contained colorful examples of Disney's proactive IP protection, including once suing a couple on public assistance for wearing costumes at children's parties and sending takedown notices over consumers posting Star Wars pictures.
"In light of all of this, the plaintiffs in this case...were genuinely shocked when they watched Disney's prime-time two-hour television program," stated the complaint, adding that Last Days was "simply a mediocre look back at Michael Jackson's life and entertainment career."
The tension then escalated when Disney tapped star litigator Daniel Petrocelli for a scathing response.
"This case is about the right of free speech under the First Amendment, the doctrine of fair use under the Copyright Act, and the ability of news organizations to use limited excerpts of copyrighted works — here, in most instances well less than 1% of the works — for the purpose of reporting on, commenting on, teaching about, and criticizing well-known public figures of interest in biographical documentaries without fear of liability from overzealous copyright holders."
Without much further court action, the case is now over.
On Wednesday, the parties stipulated to dismissal of the action with prejudice, meaning the claims may not be refiled. Details of the full settlement between the parties weren't revealed in court papers. Howard Weitzman, attorney for the Michael Jackson Estate, says simply that the dispute has been "amicably resolved."
The case may be over, but many of the attorneys involved — including Petrocelli and Weitzman — have moved onto a legal fight over a different documentary: HBO's Leaving Neverland, which is currently the subject of a consequential appeal.