In this Monday, Feb. 28, 2005 file photo, Michael Jackson follows his mother, Katherine Jackson, as they arrive for court. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Michael Jackson’s estate and a businessman working with the singer’s mother settled a copyright infringement lawsuit for $2.5 million on Tuesday, shortly before a trial in the case was scheduled to begin.
The settlement also restricts Howard Mann and his companies from using Jackson’s likeness without permission in the future. It ends a year and a half of legal fighting over Mann’s use of Jackson’s name and likeness on a website used to promote unreleased songs, photographs and a book written by Katherine Jackson filled with recollections of her superstar son.
Mann is the CEO of Vintage Pop Media, which operated the website www.michaeljacksonsecretvault.com until it was ordered shut down last month by a federal judge who ruled the site violated copyrights controlled by the singer’s estate.
Under the terms of the settlement, announced in court by estate attorney Zia Modabber, Vintage Pop Media Group is responsible for $2 million of the judgment, while the entity Vintage Associates LLC is responsible for the remainder. Vintage Associates is the custodian of the items that were at issue in the case.
Mann’s attorney, Lee Durst, declined comment after the hearing. “The estate is delighted this matter is behind us,” estate attorney Howard Weitzman said.
Among the items that had been improperly used were images from Jackson’s posthumous film “This Is It” and a silhouette of the singer dancing in “Smooth Criminal.” The settlement also blocks the usage of materials from “Thriller” that had appeared on Mann’s website.
A jury trial on how much Mann owes the estate had been scheduled to begin Tuesday, with an expert estimating a license for the works is worth between $5 million and $12 million.
Mann’s attorneys rejected a settlement offer last week of $2 million. They sought to introduce evidence that they were given bad legal advice about having to license the works and have considered calling Katherine Jackson as a witness. The Jackson family matriarch is one of the beneficiaries of the singer’s estate, along with his three children.
U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson has noted that Mann doesn’t appear to have the resources to pay a large judgment. The defendants’ ability to pay was not discussed in court on Tuesday.