Michael Jackson: Judge rules website violated copyrights owned by estate

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — A federal judge ruled Friday that a businessman working with Michael Jackson’s mother has violated copyrights owned by the singer’s estate and should be blocked from future uses of the work.

U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson sided with the singer’s estate in a ruling against Howard Mann and the website www.michaeljacksonsecretvault.com, which appeared to be inactive Friday morning.

The estate sued Mann in January 2011, claiming he was violating copyrights and posed unfair competition to Jackson’s estate. Pregerson ruled that the website improperly used art from the film “This Is It,” a logo featuring Jackson and the song “Destiny,” as well as other material.

“In light of defendants’ past and present infringement, it is also undisputed that future violations are likely, causing ongoing harm to plaintiffs and misled consumers,” Pregerson wrote.

An upcoming trial will address damages, although the judge noted that Mann and the site probably will not be able to pay any amount because of debts.

A phone message for one of Mann’s lawyers, Lee Durst, was not immediately returned Friday. Mann has collaborated with Katherine Jackson, who is a beneficiary of the singer’s estate, on several projects, including a book of recollections about her son. Several of the Jackson Secret Vault releases occurred at the same time as estate projects were being released, including the anniversary of Jackson’s death and the release of the album “Michael” in December 2010.

Mann’s attorneys recently wrote in court filings that they hoped to introduce evidence during the upcoming trial that the singer’s will was a fraud. The businessman had claimed he obtained rights to the works in a bankruptcy sale years ago, but Pregerson ruled there was no evidence that the items could be used commercially.

“The court’s ruling makes clear that Howard Mann had no right to use Michael Jackson’s intellectual property for his own benefit,” attorney Zia Modabber, who represented the estate in the case, wrote in a statement. Estate attorney Howard Weitzman said executors John Branca and John McClain are “extremely pleased” by the ruling.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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