Michael Jackson’s estate is suing the Walt Disney Company and ABC TV over federal copyright infringement from the airing of the documentary, The Last Days of Michael Jackson.
According to Rolling Stone, the estate alleges that dozens of copyrighted works, like the songs “Beat It” and “Billie Jean,” were used without the estate’s consent. The copyrighted material also included large portions of Jackson’s music videos, video of live performances, documentary footage, and images from the film, Michael Jackson’s This Is It.
Estate claims no permission was requested
Jackson’s estate claims Disney and ABC never sought permission to use any of the copyrighted material. The estate also says it sent several letters to both companies cautioning the use of this material. It further states these letters went unanswered.
An ABC spokesperson stated the company did not infringe on any of the estate’s rights.
Music copyrights protect both composer and recorder
According to the U.S. Copyright Office, copyright laws protect both the original composer and the person who records the music. When recorded music is used, whoever is using it may need to seek permission from both the person who composed it and the person who recorded it. In the case of the songs “Billie Jean” and “Beat It,” Jackson both composed and recorded both songs.
For copyrighted work created after January 1978, the copyright protection lasts for 70 years after the death of the creator. However, a copyright owner can pass along his or her ownership to heirs or beneficiaries of an estate. In the case of Jackson, his estate was divided between his children and his mother.
The Last Days of Michael Jackson drew 5.6 million viewers to ABC. For that particular time slot, it was largest TV audience.