Pop star's contract to expire after greatest-hits album

As Michael Jackson went trolling in the streets of London last weekend seeking popular support for his escalating war of words with label Sony Music, the mood inside the Sony camp was one of increasing bafflement.

Jackson, who reportedly led an entourage on a whirlwind tour of Blighty, announced to fans in London’s Leicester Square that he only had to deliver a few more new tracks for a greatest-hits record and he would be free to leave Sony for good.

But sources close to the label group claim that the mercurial pop superstar’s contract was skedded to expire after the hits release anyway, and that Sony is looking forward to wishing him a hearty “bon voyage.”

Jackson also reiterated accusations that Sony made a hash of the marketing campaign for his last LP “Invincible,” which has sold a paltry (by Jackson standards) 4 million copies worldwide, and reportedly even branded Sony Music chief Tommy Mottola “the devil.”

Sony stands by its effort. “We’re extremely proud of the work we’ve done in marketing and promoting ‘Invincible’ worldwide,” a rep said. Sources close to the situation have noted that the label spent about $30 million producing the album, and another $20 million on marketing and promotion.

Industry insiders have also floated the theory that Jackson is bad-mouthing the label’s support of the record in an effort to explain the tepid sales of “Invincible,” and thereby secure the best-possible terms on a new record deal.

The U.K. press has speculated that he may sign with entertainment company Allied Stars, run by the daughter of British magnate Mohamed Al Fayed.

Jackson shifted his PR battle into high gear last week, when he enlisted the help of Al Sharpton and Johnny Cochran to frame his dispute with Sony as part of the battle to bolster artists’ rights in the music industry.

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