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Michael Jackson’s Estate Sues Disney Over ABC Special

The estate of Michael Jackson filed a copyright infringement suit on Wednesday against the Walt Disney Co., alleging that an ABC television special used Jackson’s songs and videos without permission.

The suit surrounds “The Last Days of Michael Jackson,” a TV special that aired on March 24. The estate alleges that the producers used songs including “Beat It,” “Billie Jean,” and “The Girl Is Mine,” along with music videos such as “Thriller,” and clips from “This Is It,” the concert documentary.

“The extent of Disney’s use of the Estate’s intellectual property in ‘The Last Days of Michael Jackson’ is truly astounding,” the suit states.

According to the estate, Disney’s attorneys never reached out to obtain permission before the show aired. When the estate raised objections, Disney asserted that the show was a “documentary” and was entitled to use the material under the “fair use” doctrine. Howard Weitzman, the attorney for the Jackson estate, argued that was “patently absurd,” especially in light of Disney’s aggressive enforcement of its own copyrights.

“If Disney’s position on fair use of the Estate’s copyrights were accepted, a network, studio, or producer could make a documentary about Walt Disney, and spend most of the documentary’s time using, without Disney’s permission, extensive clips of Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney, and Disney movies,” Weitzman wrote.

Weitzman also alleged Disney is engaged in “blatant hypocrisy,” and would never allow a two-hour “documentary” on “Star Wars” that made extensive use of film clips and the “Star Wars” score.

“Disney is obviously aware of the copyright laws,” he continued. “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.”

In a statement, an ABC spokesman said the company has yet to review to the complaint.

“The ABC News documentary explored the life, career and legacy of Michael Jackson, who remains of great interest to people worldwide, and did not infringe on his estate’s rights,” the spokesman said.

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