Quincy Jones' $9.4M Win in Michael Jackson Royalty Suit Wiped Out by Appeals Court

Quincy Jones speaks onstage during the 10th Annual AAFCA Awards -Getty - H 2019
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A California appeals court has ruled that a trial judge overseeing Quincy Jones' fight for more royalties for his work producing Michael Jackson records didn't adequately interpret contracts. As a result, the superstar producer's $9.4 million win three years ago has been reversed.

Jones originally sought $30 million for projects made after Michael Jackson's death including remixes of hit songs as well as the licensing of masters for This Is It.  After a trial in 2017, the jury returned a verdict that Jones was entitled to nearly $1.6 million because he didn't get a right to participate in those remixes, an additional $5.3 million in joint venture profits, nearly $2 million more for This Is It and $180,000 for foreign public performance income.

But should the case have even gone to jury?

The appeals court rules that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Judge Michael L. Stern should have looked at extrinsic evidence about the contract to make a preliminary determination about the meaning of Jones' producer contracts. Only when the contracts were reasonably susceptible to at least two interpretations and there was enough conflict in the evidence should the contractual interpretation be put to a jury.

"The trial court did not perform these judicial functions; instead, it allowed the jury to act in a judicial capacity," states the opinion.

As for the correct interpretation of the contracts, the appeals court proceeds to take its own look at the extrinsic evidence and comes to the conclusion that nothing Jones' side has put forward negates how Jones was due anymore than a 10 percent royalty rate on record sales. The appeals court finds that this rate was fixed, there wasn't music experts testifying otherwise, and so forth. On the issue of joint venture profits, the opinion states, "The award of $5,315,787 must be reversed because it was based on the jury’s improper conclusion that: (1) the Producer Agreements entitled Jones to a share of net receipts for Master use licenses; and (2) the Producer Agreements entitled Jones to more than 10 percent of record sales if Sony increased Jackson’s basic royalty rate over time in the Recording Agreements."

The appeals court also concludes the producers agreements did not entitle Jones to fees for remixing masters and, alternatively, the remix damages were too speculative.

The case has been remanded to the trial judge who will now need to sharply slash the award based on Tuesday's decision. Specifically, Jones loses $6.9 million of the total award as a result of the reversal.

Finally, the appeals court rejects a cross-appeal from Jones over the trial judge's refusal to allow him to move forward on a claim of financial elder abuse. It's ruled that the judge didn't abuse discretion by disallowing a belated attempt to assert this claim.

The Estate of Michael Jackson and MJJ Productions was represented by Howard Weitzman and Jonathan Steinsapir of Kinsella Weitzman and Zia Modabber and Tami Sims of Katten Muchin.