Four years after his death, Michael Jackson has shown no signs of slowing down.
In the last year, the late king of pop has earned $160 million, making him Forbes' top-earning dead celebrity. The Cirque du Soleil spectacles “Immortal” and “One” -- both anchored by Jackson's ubiquitous discography -- are currently dazzling audiences, and his hits have been repackaged in numerous compilations.
But it's the way Jackson’s music has been used to bolster posthumous projects that has drawn the ire of one of his most well-known collaborators and sparked a multimillion-dollar lawsuit.
Quincy Jones, who produced Jackson’s mega-selling albums including “Off the Wall,” “Thriller” and “Bad,” has filed a $10 million breach-of-contract lawsuit related to projects issued since the singer’s 2009 death, including the Cirque shows, the “This Is It” film/soundtrack and a special edition boxset to mark the 25th anniversary of “Bad.”
Jones filed the complaint Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court against Sony Music Entertainment, the parent company of Jackson's longtime label, Epic Records, and MJJ Productions, which is controlled by the singer’s estate.
In the lawsuit (the Hollywood Reporter posted a copy of it online), Jones claims that the master recordings he worked on were improperly remixed to deprive him of royalties and production fees he was entitled to under agreements he had with Jackson that date back to the 1970s and '80s.
In the lawsuit, the iconic producer also claims that he’s been denied credit for works used on posthumous releases and that the estate and Sony entered side deals taking profits that should have been included in royalties.
Since Jackson’s death, his estate has rolled out a number of high-profile projects.
A few months after his passing, Columbia Pictures issued the film “This Is It,” which documented preparations for what would have been Jackson's farewell tour. It’s companion soundtrack featured unreleased demo versions of hits including "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin,' " "She's Out of My Life" and "Beat It,” songs produced by Jones.
A touring Cirque du Soleil spectacle, "Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour," was 2012’s highest-grossing tour in the U.S., and earlier this year, another production, "Michael Jackson: One," set up at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.
The soundtrack for “Immortal” featured reworked versions of Jackson's classics, mash-ups and never-before-released outtakes that Jones claimed were a breach of contract, since a third party made the edits "without first providing a reasonable opportunity to Jones to perform such remixes and/or re-edits," according to the lawsuit.
In the suit, Jones claims that his contracts with Jackson stipulated that he be given the first opportunity to re-edit or remix any of the masters, that the coupling of master recordings with other recordings required his prior written consent, and that he be given producer credit for each of the master recordings.
The producer also claims in the lawsuit that he is entitled to additional compensation, both an upfront payment and a "back-end" percentage, if the estate wanted to remix any masters he worked on.
According to the lawsuit, Jones also claims the estate "secretly entered into a venture agreement with Sony" in which the two labels would share profits after rights to the masters were "reverted from Sony to MJJ" and not distributed by Sony. He claims the move allowed the labels to "disguise" the revenues as profits instead of royalties, according to the complaint.
The producer is seeking at least $10 million in damages for breach of contract, according to the suit, and is demanding an accounting of revenue in connection to the use of the masters in a slew of projects.
Jones decided to file suit after years of unsuccessfully trying to resolve the matter, according to his attorney, Henry Gradstein.
“The Estate of Michael Jackson was saddened to learn that Quincy Jones has filed a lawsuit seeking money from Michael's estate. To the best of its knowledge, Mr. Jones has been appropriately compensated over approximately 35 years for his work with Michael,” Howard Weitzman, lawyer for the Michael Jackson Estate, said in a statement.
A representative for Sony did not return a request for comment.