Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Michael Jackson Tribute a Fraud?

A Tribute to Jackson Riles Fans and Family

August 30, 2011

It seems that nothing involving Michael Jackson or his fractious family is ever free of controversy, even two years after his death.

The most recent flashpoint is a tribute concert to be staged in Wales in October. The plans have divided the Jackson family, pitting Janet Jackson and two brothers against their mother and four other siblings. The Jackson estate has refused to give its blessing and has raised questions about the promoter’s charitable intentions. Fan groups are up in arms over high ticket prices and what they see as sloppy planning; their ire reached a peak when it was announced that a rock singer who had openly accused Mr. Jackson of molesting children was on the bill.

“This is the one and only time we can do this, and they are not doing it right,” said Gary Taylor, the president of the Michael Jackson Community, a fan organization in Britain with 80,000 registered members. “This is totally against what Michael would do.”

Feelings about the concert have gotten so raw that the promoters are holding a conference call with the leaders of fan organizations on Wednesday.

Chris Hunt, the British film producer who is the driving force behind the concert, said his company had been the victim of “disinformation that is being spread around.” He promised that the event, at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, the Welsh capital, on Oct. 8, would be an extravagant show worthy of Mr. Jackson. He disputed the charge coming from fan organizations that he and a few members of the Jackson family were seeking to profit from Mr. Jackson’s celebrity.

“No Jackson is going to get rich off this event,” he said. “This is not a money grab.”

Mr. Hunt said a portion of the profits from the concert would go to at least two charities that Jackson supported: AIDS Project Los Angeles and the Prince’s Trust. He said the charities would receive a fixed sum and a percentage of the proceeds. The organizers say they are also setting up a $100,000 trust fund for Jackson’s children.

He declined to say precisely how much of the proceeds would go to charity, nor would he say who are the investors in his production company, Global Live Events, which he formed in the spring, or how much they expected to make. “It’s not automatic the concert will make much of anything,” he said. “We are not announcing numbers at this point.”

The lack of a concrete commitment to the charities has troubled some fans. Ticket buyers were asked when they registered online to give an amount to charity above the ticket price, which ranges from $90 to $300, leading some fan organizations to wonder if the event was a for-profit concert in disguise.

Mr. Jackson’s estate raised similar concerns in an Aug. 15 letter to the promoters, demanding to know who will share in the profits. A lawyer for the estate, Howard Weitzman, wrote in the letter that “we are concerned that the concert is piggybacking on Michael’s good name and charity.”

The promoters never contacted the executors of Mr. Jackson’s estate about their plans, lawyers for the estate said. Mr. Jackson’s family has little control over his estate, because he cut his siblings out of his will and set up a trust solely for his young children and his mother, Katherine Jackson. A judge has appointed John Branca, who was Jackson’s lawyer, and John McClain, a music industry executive, to manage the estate’s assets and debts; they do not need Katherine Jackson’s approval for business decisions.

LaTotya Jackson, Tito Jackson and Katherine Jackson
Mr. Hunt, who became close to the Jackson family while filming a television documentary about Michael Jackson in 2006, said the idea for the concert was born at a meeting last September with La Toya Jackson, who is firmly behind the event. He later decided to take on the project himself, then approached Jackson’s mother and won her approval. Mr. Hunt said he didn’t contact the executors because he thought he had the family’s approval.

The executors have made it clear through their lawyers that Mr. Hunt and his company cannot use any of Jackson’s intellectual property, including his name, his photographic image or his music videos. (The concert is called “Michael Forever: The Tribute Concert,” and ads for the event have no photos.) The musicians performing at the concert — including Christina Aguilera, Ne-Yo, Smokey Robinson and Cee Lo Green — may sing Mr. Jackson’s songs, as long as it is a one-time tribute, lawyers for the estate say. All are being paid for their performances.

But Mr. Hunt takes the position that intellectual-property laws in the United States do not extend to Britain, so he argues that he can use images of Mr. Jackson as long as they are not broadcast in the United States. He also intends to make a documentary film of the concert, he said.

The fact that the promoters never tried to enter a partnership with the Jackson estate has angered many fan organizations, and 35 of them sent an open letter to the promoters last week saying the concert was “doomed to fail.”

“We reckon without Michael Jackson’s estate at the helm, this tribute is nothing more than a money grab for the investors,” said Nathalie Smythe, a founder of Fans United for Michael Jackson’s Legacy. “They wanted to avoid sharing the profits.”

The timing of the concert has also been a point of contention. Jermaine Jackson, a sibling who tried unsuccessfully to organize his own tribute concert in 2009, has objected to staging the concert in Wales during the involuntary-manslaughter trial of Dr. Conrad Murray, the cardiologist who was with Jackson when he died in June 2009. He has been joined by Randy Jackson and Janet Jackson in boycotting the event.
Janet Jackson and Jermaine Jackson
“Because of the trial, the timing of this tribute to our brother would be too difficult for me,” Janet Jackson said in a statement on Monday, which would have been her brother’s 53rd birthday.

Mr. Hunt said he had initially chosen the October date because the trial had been scheduled earlier, but when it was delayed until the fall, he could not change the date without incurring a financial loss. He noted that the concert would be held on a Saturday when the trial was not in session.

Mr. Hunt has hired Paul Ring, an executive in La Toya Jackson’s Ja-Tail Enterprises LLC, to help organize the show. Mr. Hunt says neither La Toya Jackson nor the other siblings supporting the event — Tito, Marlon and Jackie — have a financial stake in his Global Live Events.

Beyond questions about money, Mr. Hunt also lost the confidence of many fan organizations when he announced that the rock band Kiss would perform at the concert. For diehard fans it was a huge faux pas because the frontman for the group, Gene Simmons, has said that he believed Mr. Jackson had molested children despite his acquittal on child-abuse charges in 2005.

Mr. Hunt has since announced that Mr. Simmons will not perform. But the damage to the concert’s standing with fan organizations was already done.

“It’s clear they have not done any homework,” Mr. Taylor said. “They had no clue about the person they are doing the tribute for.”

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