Company calls charges 'ludicrous, spiteful and hurtful'

NEW YORK — Michael Jackson is pumping up the volume in his war with Sony.

He took to the streets of Manhattan Saturday, once again referring to Sony Music topper Tommy Mottola as “devilish” and adding accusations that the exec enriches himself and his label at the expense of black artists.

Sony Music fired back at Michael Jackson, defending itself against the eccentric pop star’s vehement claims that Sony scuttled Jackson’s career through neglectful and even racist tactics.

Jackson’s attacks are “ludicrous, spiteful and hurtful,” the major said in a statement. “It seems particularly bizarre that he has chosen to launch an unwarranted and ugly attack on an executive who has championed his career … for many, many years.”

Jackson has teamed with the Rev. Al Sharpton and attorney Johnnie Cochran to form a coalition aimed at protecting artists’ rights — a topic that has made headlines in recent months after a series of artists’ lawsuits against labels and a push to protect musicians from onerous contract terms in the California legislature.

“If you fight for me, you’re fighting for all black people, dead and alive,” Jackson said in a statement at the Harlem headquarters of Sharpton’s National Action Network.

Mini-protest

Saturday’s tour, which included a double-decker bus ride and a mini-protest at Sony’s corporate headquarters on Madison Ave, echoed a similar parade through the streets of London last month, ending in a demonstration of disgruntled fans at Leicester Square.

Jackson accuses Sony of intentionally shelving marketing plans for the 43-year-old artist’s latest album, “Invincible.” Disc, which came out on Sony’s Epic Records imprint, sold a mere two million copies in the U.S. — a pittance compared with Jackson’s past releases.

Sony has argued that it did everything it could to help Jackson on his latest project, including spending a reported $30 million on production and another $25 million on marketing, but that consumer demand for the aging popster’s material was simply not what it once had been.

Debt reported

Jackson is said to be deeply in debt to the label group, running a reported $200 million into the red as sales waned and expenses piled up. He made headlines last summer when he put on a pair of heavily hyped “cavalcade of stars”-style concerts (with tickets selling at up to $2,500 a pop) to celebrate his 30-year anniversary as an entertainer.

Reports had emerged earlier this year that the mercurial singer might be forced to give up his 50% interest in Sony’s music publishing company — which owns the rights to many of the Beatles’ most popular tunes — to repay the loans. But Sony vehemently denied that it would foreclose on the stake.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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