Jones’ attorneys had argued that the producer was entitled to some $30 million in royalties and other income derived from the “This Is It” concert film, two Cirque du Soleil shows and other revenue streams that followed Jackson’s death in 2009. After a two-week trial, the jurors awarded Jones $9.4 million.
But on Tuesday, the appeals court took most of it back, saying that Judge Michael L. Stern had erred by not interpreting the contract himself, and instead leaving it up to the jurors.
After Jackson’s death, his estate negotiated an increased share of profits through a joint venture with Sony, going from 50% to two-thirds. Jones’ attorneys argued at trial that he was entitled under his producer contract to a proportional increase in royalties. The jury agreed, granting Jones $5.3 million in joint venture profits.
But the appeals court ruled that Jones’ producer contracts did not entitle him to such an increase.
“The language of section 4(a) cannot be tortured to mean that Jones’s maximum royalty rate increased proportionally if Jackson’s maximum royalty rate increased,” wrote Justice Judith Ashmann-Gerst, on behalf of a unanimous panel.
The court also vacated an award of $1.6 million in remix fees, which Jones claimed he was owed. Jones’ contract gave him first right of refusal on remixes of his Jackson albums, which he was not afforded. But the panel held he was not entitled to be paid fees for remixing work that he did not perform.
“The only compensation Jones was entitled to receive was royalties from record sales on remixes, and the evidence indicates he received them,” Ashmann-Gerst wrote. “If he wanted remixing fees, he had to negotiate them in separate agreements.”
The court left in place the remaining $2.6 million awarded to Jones, which consisted of unpaid license fees from “This Is It,” plus other fees and interest.
Jones had also appealed two of Stern’s rulings that went against him. His attorneys argued he should have been allowed to claim elder abuse, and should have been awarded interest on a greater portion of the damages award. Those appeals were both denied.
Howard Weitzman, who represented the Jackson estate, issued a statement claiming vindication.
Quincy Jones was the last person we thought would try to take advantage of Michael Jackson by filing a lawsuit three years after he died asking for tens of millions of dollars he wasn’t entitled to,” Weitzman said. “We knew the verdict was wrong when we heard it, and the court of appeal has completely vindicated us. From the beginning this was an attempt to take advantage of Michael knowing he wasn’t here to defend himself.”
John Branca, co-executor of the estate, also issued a comment: “So many people have tried to take advantage of Michael and mischaracterize him since his death. It’s gratifying that in this case the court in an overwhelmingly favorable and just decision, recognizes that Michael Jackson was both an enormous talent and an extremely fair business executive.”