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"Record companies have to start treating their artists with respect, honor and financial justice. Therefore, I am proud to join this coalition which represents all artists."
—Michael Jackson
AND JACKO MAKES THREE
Superstar Joins Cochran and Sharpton's Coalition to Seek Recording Artists Rights
Michael Jackson, reportedly in debt to Sony Music to the tune of $200 million, is calling for "justice'' in the way record labels treat their artists.

Jackson said yesterday he supports the efforts of Rev. Al Sharpton and attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr., who announced during a press conference at a New York City hotel that they are forming a coalition to investigate whether artists are being financially exploited by record labels. It will be an outgrowth of Sharpton's National Action Network.

"Record companies have to start treating their artists with respect, honor and financial justice,'' said Jackson in a statement. "Therefore, I am proud to join this coalition which represents all artists.''

Civil rights activist and former candidate for Mayor of New York, Sharpton claimed too many artists end up bankrupt after years of making millions for record labels.

"It is our intention to break up the kinds of indentured servant-type of arrangement that many in the record industry now have with record companies,'' he said. "We hope that this initiative would make it possible where one day the artist on the CD is as big as the companies that put out the CD.''

The pair said they had been contacted by several artists who have complained about record label practices that force stars to pay for promotional costs such as videos.

"How would it be if Derek Jeter had to pay for his bats, balls and glove to go out and play for the Yankees?'' Cochran asked. "It's unfair.''

Especially when they're stolen from his locker by a teammate.

Cochran and Sharpton said they would be willing to work with the Recording Artists Coalition, which includes the likes of Don Henley, Sheryl Crow, the Dixie Chicks, Billy Joel and Clint Black.

Jackson's deal with Sony is considered to be one of the most lucrative  in the record business. He is currently battling his longtime label over their support for his latest album, Invincible, which has sold about 2 million records since its October release and is considered a commercial disappointment.

Yesterday's New York Daily News quoted an unnamed executive who said Jackson was using Sharpton and Cochran to try and get out of his contract with Sony and owed the company $200 million for promotion and studio time.

Jackson's statement said: "For Sony to make a false claim that I owe them $200 million is outrageous and offensive.''

In response, Sony said: "We have never issued any statement verbally or in writing claiming that Michael Jackson owes us $200 million. As a result, we are baffled by the comments issued today by his press representatives.''

There has been speculation that Sony has urged Jackson to pay off his debt by forsaking his share of Sony/ATV, a music publishing joint venture that owns the rights to many Jackson songs and most of the Beatles catalog.

At the news conference, Sharpton acknowledged talking to both Jackson and Sony Music chairman Tommy Mottola.

"Clearly Mr. Jackson has lawyers to deal with his contract,'' Sharpton said.

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