Michael Jackson Estate Says Digital Sale Of Early Jackson Recording Violates Estate Rights

Michael Jackson Estate Says Digital Sale Of Early Jackson Recording Violates Estate Rights

Music

The Michael Jackson estate isn’t happy about a recently-announced digital sale of an early Jackson 5 recording, warning that it “violates the Jackson Estate’s rights” and could lead to a lawsuit.

A Swedish company called anotherblock announced Wednesday (Dec. 6) that it would digitally release a 1967 version of the song “Big Boy,” claiming it represented the first time Jackson’s voice had been put on tape. But in a letter sent Thursday, the estate’s attorney, Jonathan Steinsapir, pointedly advised the company about several problems that might “expose you to liability to the Jackson Estate.”

Among other things, the letter (which was obtained by Billboard) warned that the estate owns all rights to Jackson’s name, image and likeness rights, along with his trademarks. “Given this,” Steinsapir wrote, “any use of Michael’s name, image, and likeness in marketing, advertising or in the product itself violates the Jackson Estate’s rights.”

At issue in the budding dispute is a 1967 version of the Jackson 5 song “Big Boy,” a subsequent version of which was commercially released in 1968. The earlier version is called the “One-derful Version” because it was recorded at Chicago’s One-derful Studios. According to Rolling Stone, that version of the song first surfaced in 2009 and was released in 2014 on vinyl.

On Wednesday, anotherblock said it would release the track for the first time in digital format, doing so in partnership with Jackson’s mother, Katherine Jackson, and with a company called Recordpool, which purportedly controls the intellectual property rights to the recording. The sale, which included $25 and $100 packages with various other goodies, is meant to continue through the weekend via the anotherblock site.

But in its letter on Thursday, the estate warned that whatever deals anotherblock had struck to facilitate the “Big Boy” sale could be invalid if they covered rights that were controlled solely by Michael’s estate, like his trademark rights. And the estate’s lawyers strongly questioned the claim that the “One-derful Version” was Jackson’s first studio recording.

“We have no information to confirm that the unreleased recordings you are making available are in fact the first time Michael Jackson’s ‘voice was put on tape’ or even that it was the first time he recorded in a studio at all,” the estate’s attorney wrote. “Indeed, we have good reason to believe that this is not the first time Michael Jackson ever recorded in a studio. Because of that, you are likely misleading the public.”

A 2009 article by the Chicago Reader called the “One-derful” track “the earliest known studio recording of Michael Jackson and his brothers.” A 2014 article from Rolling Stone likewise called the recording the “earliest commercially available Jackson 5 recording.”

In Thursday’s letter, the estate also sharply criticized the decision to publish previously unreleased songs, telling anotherblock that Jackson was “was the consummate perfectionist” and that he had been “very careful about what recordings he released to the public.”

“Because of this, we have serious doubts that Michael would have ever wanted these recordings released and commercialized,” the estate’s attorneys wrote. “As the persons designated by Michael to protect his legacy after his untimely passing, the Estate’s Co-Executors are duty-bound to point this out. What you are doing is the opposite of honoring Michael Jackson.”

As if the message wasn’t clear enough, at the bottom of the letter the estate warned that it reserved “all of the Jackson Estate’s rights and remedies,” including the right to seek monetary damages and an injunction blocking further sales.

A spokeswoman for anotherblock declined to comment.

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