The Michael Jackson Estate is hitting Disney with a lawsuit over an ABC documentary.
The two-hour documentary, The Last Days Of Michael Jackson—which aired on May 24, 2018, on ABC—gives viewers a look into Jackson’s life. The TV special features The King of Pop's childhood from when he was in the Jackson 5 to his unfortunate death because of cardiac arrest on June 5, 2009. Exclusive interviews with the deceased singer were shared as well.
According to People, Jackson's estate released a statement after the trailer of the documentary was shared with the world. They stated that the documentary “is not sponsored or approved by the Estate of Michael Jackson.” The statement went on to say that “ABC was using a copyrighted photo and silhouette image owned by the Estate in the trailers and promotional material for the special.” Attorneys from Jackson estate informed ABC news about this violation. As a result, ABC took down the material and released a statement to announce this change: “the program does not infringe on his estate’s rights, but as a courtesy, we removed a specific image from the promotional material.”
The Estate of Michael Jackson also accused Disney and ABC of their intention “to use music and other intellectual property owned by the Estate such as photos, logos, artwork, and more in the program itself, without having licensed the rights to any such material.” They said that it was a disappointment because Disney is a company that strongly believes in protecting its IP rights, yet they decided to disrespect Michael Jackson’s legacy and his intellectual properties. Disney's spokesperson argued that the show was a "documentary" and was entitled to use the material under fair use. The attorney of the Jackson Estate, Howard Weitzman, argued that was “patently absurd” and this was a case of "blatant hypocrisy" because, under the same circumstances, Disney would go to the same extent to protect the copyrights of extensive clips of Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney, and other Disney movies.
The documentary used Michael Jackson’s hits (Billie Jean and Beat It), clips from his music videos (Thriller and Bad,) to live concert footage taken from the 2016 Spike Lee documentary Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall and the 2009 documentary Michael Jackson’s This Is It. “Disney knows that permission from the copyright owner must be obtained before using copyright works, particularly in commercial projects like the one at issue here. Disney did not do that,” Weitzman wrote. For this violation, Weitzman firmly stated that “Disney and ABC committed willful and intentional copyright infringement."