Quincy Jones is owed about $30 million in unpaid royalties from Michael Jackson’s estate, the veteran producer’s attorney told a jury on Tuesday.
Attorney Mike McKool delivered his opening argument in the trial, which is now underway in Los Angeles Superior Court. McKool said that before Jackson’s death in 2009, Jones had received his customary royalties from producing three albums: “Off the Wall,” “Thriller,” and “Bad.”
But, McKool argued that that changed when Jackson died and the singer’s estate took control of his finances. Jackson’s death brought a surge of interest in his catalog, and the estate reaped an increased share of the royalties from his hit songs. But Jones was not allowed to share in the bounty, McKool contended, and indeed was not even informed of the increased royalties until after filing suit in 2013.
“He hasn’t been adjusted as Michael was adjusted,” McKool told the jury.
McKool also contends that Jones was shorted on his share of the profits from “This Is It,” the behind-the-scenes concert documentary released after Jackson’s death. McKool said the film made use of Jackson’s original recordings, but that Jones was not given an adequate share of the licensing fee. McKool said the film grossed more than $500 million, of which the estate took $90 million, but that Jones was paid only $455,000.
Zia Modabber, the attorney for Jackson’s estate, countered in his opening argument that Jones has been richly rewarded for his producing work even after Jackson’s death.
“We believe the evidence will show that Mr. Jones is not entitled to anything but a fraction of the money he’s after,” Modabber said. Since Jackson’s death, he said, “Mr. Jones has been paid over $18 million, and he will make millions more.”
Modabber showed the jury a 10-minute clip of “This Is It” before the trial broke for lunch.
Following the lunch break, Modabber concluded his opening argument by contending that Jones was properly paid, and is not owed additional money from Sony’s joint venture with Jackson.
“He didn’t get paid any of the money Michael was going to get because he didn’t do any of the work,” Modabber said. “Mr. Jones is asking for tens and tens of millions of dollars. He just wants it and he hopes you will give it to him.”
John Branca, Jackson’s longtime attorney and now the co-executor of his estate, was the first witness. Under questioning from Jones’ lawyer, Branca said the estate had offered Jones $2 million to $3 million to settle the case, which is what he believed Jones is owed.
Branca and Jones’ lawyer sparred over the definition of a “videoshow” in Jones’ contract, with Branca claiming it pertained to music videos and not to movies such as “This Is It” or life performances such as Cirque du Soleil.
“It was never our practice to cheat … Mr. Jones,” Branca testified, as the debate became heated. “You’re creating a false impression.”
Branca acknowledged that the estate had erred by failing to give Jones a credit for “This Is It.”
The trial is expected to last about three weeks. Jones will likely testify next week.