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"CONTRACT MONTRACT"

Quincy Jones, who is suing the Estate of Michael Jackson for $30m for alleged breach of contract, earned major press coverage with his testimony on 7/20. But Jackson’s team points out that the trial had been going on for weeks, with minimal press, prior to Jones taking the stand. They say the case is not based so much on standing contracts as unfounded interpretations—coupled with an emotional appeal that Jones should have a greater share of the Estate’s success.

The Estate team, led by Ziffren Brittenham’s John Branca and John McClain, has transformed the $500m in debt the singer left after his 2009 death into big profits, thanks to a series of innovative record, film, stage and other projects, creating a huge base of wealth for Jackson’s progeny.

Jones, some observers say, feels entitled to a greater share of that pool of money than his contracts stipulate, perhaps motivated by a claim to greater credit more than greed. “I’m not suing, Michael,” he said on the stand. “I’m suing you all [the Estate team].”

Jones has earned some $100m overall on Jackson projects and $19m just since the artist’s death. Any monies he might be awarded by the jury in this case would come out of the Jackson children’s share.

“What’s happened [with the Estate] is nothing short of a miracle for Michael’s kids,” insists MJ Estate attorney Howard Weitzman of Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert. “And all of a sudden, out of left field, a guy you would never expect this from makes these claims.”

During his time on the stand, Jones—the producer of Off the Wall and Thriller and co-producer (with Jackson) of Bad—underlined his contributions to Jackson’s albums. When pressed on the points of the deals he’d signed, however, Jones was dismissive. “I don’t care what the agreement says,” he said at one point; at another, “contract, montract.” He made several other remarks minimizing the importance of contractual language (and admissions that he hadn’t read his contracts) throughout his exchange with Weitzman.

“Quincy’s lawsuit [alleges] breach of contract and yet he says the contract doesn’t matter,” notes Branca. “An interesting theory.”

No one on the Jackson team underestimates Jones’ creative contribution. “He is and was a phenomenal producer,” says Branca. “Nobody is trying to take anything away from Quincy,” adds Weitzman. “He is as good as anyone who ever was as a producer. But it’s fair to say that Michael took him to another level too. And he’s done quite well, to say the least.”

Jones has been compensated in the same way—and by the same people, namely Branca—for more than 30 years. During that same period, the producer was repped by Don Passman. “Don never made any of the major claims that are being advanced in this case in 30 years,” Branca relates. “The only thing that’s changed is Quincy’s legal team.” That team, he says, has “trumped up a bunch of stuff and thrown it in front of the jury in the hopes of them getting confused and something sticking.”

“Quincy’s lawsuit [alleges] breach of contract and yet he says the contract doesn’t matter,” notes Branca. “An interesting theory.”

Jones has hired Texas contingency lawyer Mike McKool of McKool Smith, whose new legal team is making a number of fresh claims. One is that the producer is entitled to be paid on song downloads as though they are a license rather than a sale; another is he should participate in productions like the documentary film This Is It and Cirque du Soleil’s Jackson-themed shows as though they were videos, rather than master use licenses; and still another is that a standard clause in his deal that gave Jones first crack at requested “re-edits” from newly submitted albums should now be construed as the exclusive right to do any reworkings of the tracks, in perpetuity.

The Estate called music-biz contract specialist Owen Sloane of Eisner Jaffe as an expert witness to dispute these claims. Sloane described the demand for ticket royalties, for example, as “outrageous” and “absurd.”

It should also be noted that Jackson paid Jones monies not owed contractually as a sort of honorarium, and that the Estate has maintained this tradition. “Technically he only gets paid on the sale or download of records,” Branca points out. “Nevertheless, we have paid him, at my instruction—and, of course, Michael’s, since the ’80s—as if he had a clause in the contract.”

“What do you imagine Michael Jackson would think,” mused Weitzman prior to giving his final argument to the jury on 7/24, “if he knew what was going on?”

 

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