A Los Angeles jury on Monday heard closing arguments in a music royalties trial pitting veteran music producer Quincy Jones against the estate of Michael Jackson, who dueled over whether Jones had been underpaid.
Jones claims he is owed $30 million in unpaid royalties and licensing fees for music he produced and that was used after the singer’s death in Cirque du Soleil shows and the film “This Is It.”
The civil case spanned just over two weeks in Los Angeles Superior Court and will be decided by a 12-member jury that begins deliberations this week.
During the closing arguments, attorneys for both sides accused the other of “word games” as they took their last shot to persuade the jury. They offered conflicting interpretations of contract language, urging them to consider how Jones had been paid under two previous producing contracts he signed with Jackson.
Scott Cole, an attorney for Jones, said the producer was wrongly cut out of the deals Jackson’s estate had negotiated for the “This Is It” documentary and the two Cirque shows. Jones’ attorneys argued that a previous contract signed by Jackson and Jones should have counted those reproductions as “records” and be paid accordingly. Under the terms of the past contract, Jones should have been given first shot at remixing the songs, they argued.
“From 1978, up until Michael’s death, this partnership worked as it should have,” Cole said, painting his client as someone who is not litigious. “After seven decades, Quincy Jones filed his first-ever lawsuit,” he said.
Using a projection screen, the two sides highlighted for the jurors contract language and other materials that they said bolstered their sides.
Jones’ team referenced a letter of direction by Jackson telling Sony how to calculate royalties payable to Jones. Howard Weitzman, attorney for the Jackson estate, pointed to Jones’ testimony on Friday as evidence that the producer does not care what the language contract says and is instead seeking to make more money on top of royalties already paid.
Attorneys for Michael Jackson’s estate acknowledge Jones is owed some money – between $2 million and $3 million – but they contend that Jones is wrongly trying to be paid more money than he is entitled to.
These are “claims that never came up while Michael was alive,” said Zia Modabber, an attorney for Jackson’s estate, accusing Jones and his legal team of a “tortured” interpretation of the past contracts.
The lucrative joint ventures that came after Jackson’s death generated roughly $500 million for the estate, which benefits, among others, Jackson’s three children. Modabber said that Jones had been paid $18 million since Jackson’s death and that “the way Mr. Jones got paid did not change.” The film and the Cirque shows, he said, were deals independent of the past contracts Jones had with Jackson.
Modabber added: “Mr. Jones’ work ended 20 years ago. He wasn’t given more in the new deal.”
At times, Jones, 84, who wore a dark, pin-striped suit and sat in a wheel chair during the proceedings, would shake his head and scoff during the defense’s closing argument.
He produced three albums with Jackson: “Off the Wall,” “Thriller,” and “Bad.” He filed the lawsuit in 2013, four years after the singer died.