Michael Jackson Estate files lawsuit against 2 California companies

MUMBAI: The Michael Jackson Estate’s Special Administrators have sued two California corporations with no connection to the legendary singer for exploiting his death by unlawfully seeking trademarks using the name Michael Jackson as well as such phrases as King of Pop, Heal The World, MJ, Neverland and Thriller to deceive the public into assuming they operate Jackson charities and thereby obtain contributions from Jackson’s fans who believe they are making charitable donations to a legitimate Jackson organization.

The lawsuit was filed in United States District Court in Los Angeles on behalf of the Estate by Special Administrators John McClain and John Branca against the Heal the World Foundation and its affiliated corporation United Fleet, which operate in the California cities of Indio and Palm Desert. The lawsuit is part of an ongoing effort by the estate’s Special Administrators to take any legal actions necessary to stop and prevent the unauthorized use of Michael Jackson’s name and likeness.

Branca said, "John McClain and I as Special Administrators will continue to be vigilant in protecting Michael’s legacy from unauthorized exploitation and in protecting Michael’s fans from being deceived."

According to the lawsuit, the defendants have registered six trademarks and have applied for 41 additional ones. All suggest a connection to Jackson, the lawsuit states, and are identical and confusingly similar to ones already owned by Triumph International, Inc., one of Jackson’s companies which also is a plaintiff in the action. Triumph is now owned by Jackson’s estate and operated by the Special Administrators.

"Those applications", the lawsuit states, "Uniquely and unmistakably point to Mr. Jackson and his persona" and are intended "to cause confusion, mistake and to deceive." The lawsuit also cites Internet statements by Heal the World Foundation founder and registered agent Melissa Johnson, which falsely suggest she had a long history of working with Jackson’s legitimate charitable endeavors. The lawsuit also alleges the defendants violated cybersquatting laws by registering such domain names as mjaid.net, healtheworldfoundation.net and mjquotes.net that suggest legitimate ties to Jackson and his estate.

The defendants were the subject of a recent CBS News investigation which stated that their Web site had become "a magnet for fans searching for a Michael Jackson charity."

The report also found that the Web site has solicited donations from visitors, and that Johnson runs a home health care business out of offices listed for the foundation.

While Jackson did found his own Heal the World Foundation in 1992, it had no connection to the defendants and, in fact, became dormant before he died. Jackson named his legitimate foundation after his iconic song that urged peace, unity, compassion and understanding, which he would later cite as the song he was most proud of writing. Jackson performed the song during halftime at Super Bowl XXVII, and it was featured at the conclusion of Jackson’s memorial service in Los Angeles on 7 July, 2009.