Let’s go back in time to the year 2001 and the Michael Jackson album “Invincible.”
In October 2001, Michael released Invincible. This was his first full-length album in six years, and it turned out to be the last album of new material he released while still alive. The release of the album was preceded by a dispute between Michael and his record label, Sony Music Entertainment. Michael had expected the licenses to the masters of his albums to revert to him sometime in the early 2000s. Once he had the licenses, he would be able to promote the material however he pleased and he would also be able to keep all the profits. However, due to various clauses in the contract, the revert date turned out to be many years away.
Michael discovered that the attorney who represented him in the deal was also representing Sony. Michael was also concerned about another conflict of interest. For a number of years, Sony had been pushing to buy all of Michael’s share in their music catalog venture. Michael feared that Sony might have something to gain from Michael ‘s career failing, since if his career did fail he would have to sell his share of the catalog.
It was said in that just before the release of Invincible, Jackson informed the head of Sony Music Entertainment, Tommy Mottola he was leaving the record label. As a result, all singles released, video shootings and promotions concerning the Invincible album were cancelled. Jackson made allegations in July 2002 that Mottola was a “devil” and a “racist” who did not support his African-American artists, using them merely for his own personal gain. He charged that Mottola had called his colleague Irv Gotti a “fat black (the n-word)”. Sony disputed claims that they had failed to promote Invincible with sufficient energy, maintaining that Jackson refused to tour in the United States. Michael accused Sony and the record industry of racism, deliberately not promoting or actively working against promotion of his album. So on July 6th to the 9th of 2002, Michael was in New York, letting to world know how he felt about Tommy Mottola and Sony at a National Action Network meeting in Harlem.
Now, if Michael would leave Sony, was ATV Music Publishing going with him? What is ATV? As some of you know it is the “rights” to all the Beatles songs and more. After Jackson’s acquisition of ATV, his record label at the time, CBS, were negotiating the sale of their record division in an unrelated deal. Soon, after hurried arranged meetings and disagreements over the selling price, Michael had made the deal.
Sony wanted advance into music, films and games. Looking for opportunities, the company aimed to expand its music publishing interests. They offered Michael $90 million for 50% of ATV in 1995. Michael said yes. Michael’s Jackson’s own songs were not included in the deal. They merged and now became Sony/ATV Music Publishing and the third largest music publisher in the world.
So in 2002, Michael left Sony for good! At that time Forbes magazine estimated Jackson’s 50% stake in the company, along with other music publishing ventures, to be worth $450 million. In 2003 in was up to $700 million. By 2004, based on the sales of rival catalogues, experts valued the catalogue at between $600 million to $1 billion. Charles Koppelman, a veteran music industry executive, stated that $1 billion was more reflective of Sony/ATV Music Publishing’s worth. Ryan Schinman, chief of Platinum Rye, estimated it to be $1.5 billion. In 2005, Thomas Mesereau, Michael’s defense attorney in the 2005 child molestation trialrevealed that the song catalogue had been valued at between $4 billion and $5 billion. Jackson’s other publishing firm, Mijac, which publishes songs written by Michael Jackson and which is administered by competitor Warner/Chappell Music, is valued to be worth at least $75 million.
In one of Michael’s speeches in June of 2002, he stated,
“…And being the artist that I am, at Sony I’ve generated several billion dollars for Sony, several billon. They really thought that my mind is always on music and dancing. It usually is, but they never thought that this performer – myself – would out think them.
So, we can’t let them get away with what they’re trying to do, because now I’m a free agent. I just owe Sony one more album. It’s just a box set, really, with two new songs, which I’ve written ages ago. Because for every album that I record, I write – literally, I’m telling you the truth – I write at least 120 songs every album I do. So I can do the box set, just giving them any two songs.
So I’m leaving Sony, a free agent, owning half of Sony. I own half of Sony’s Publishing. I’m leaving them, and they’re very angry at me, because I just did good business, you know. So the way they get revenge is to try and destroy my album. But I’ve always said, you know, art, good art, never dies…”
Let’s look at page two of the will.
“I appoint JOHN BRANCA, JOHN McCLAIN and BARRY SIEGEL as co-Executors of this Will….”
John G. Branca is an entertainment lawyer. Michael abruptly left Branca in 1990 when record company mogul David Geffen convinced him that Branca exerted too much control. Michael re-hired Branca three years later, and Michael appointed Branca as one of his representatives on the Board of Sony/ATV. In 2006, Branca resigned as Michael ‘s lawyer and sold back his equity interest in Sony/ATV. Approximately three weeks before he died, Michael rehired Branca?
So was there a conspiracy?
Tom Mesereau said:
“What Michael said about a conspiracy makes logical sense, but I have no evidence of it. If Michael were in jail or in prison, how would he defend his ownership in the catalogue? How would he defend all these frivolous lawsuits? Sony had so much to gain if there was a conviction…”
So what is the bottom line?
In March, Sony Music, a unit of Sony Corp announced a $250 million deal with Jackson’s estate, which will result in up to 10 albums using the singer’s previously unreleased music. The deal was unprecedented in the music industry as it is the most expensive music contract to a single artist in history.
He was worth more dead than alive!