June 24, 2024

Michael Jackson estate wins appeal in ‘Leaving Neverland’ suit with HBO

Michael Jackson’s estate has won a $100 million legal battle against HBO over its Leaving Neverland documentary, which put the spotlight on two men who claim they were sexually abused as kids by the late singer.

The King of Pop appears to have had the last laugh as his legal team was able to prove HBO breached a non-disparagement clause from a 1992 contract related to the concert film from the “Dangerous” tour, Variety reports. The clause prohibits a company from saying anything negative about a subject. Believing the agreement ended after his death, HBO produced in January 2019 the Leaving Neverland documentary.

The film explores allegations that Jackson groomed and molested Wade Robson and James Safechuck, when they were little boys. Jackson’s estate could not sue HBO for defamation so they took legal action against the company for breaching its contract with the music icon.

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HBO tried to have the lawsuit dismissed, noting that the estate was using a 27-year-old agreement to silence Jackson’s victims.

However, the network learned the clause is still valid when the judge overseeing the case sided with the estate. HBO appealed but on Monday, the lower court ruling was upheld by 9th Circuit Court of Appeal. It will now be up to an arbitrator to decide if the lawsuit is “frivolous,” as HBO has claimed, according to the Variety report.

“The contract contained a broad arbitration clause that covers claims that HBO disparaged Jackson in violation of ongoing confidentiality obligations,” the panel states in its decision. “We may only identify whether the parties agreed to arbitrate such claims; it is for the arbitrator to decide whether those claims are meritorious.

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“The parties do not dispute that the 1992 Live in Bucharest contract at issue was a product of mutual consent and included a broad arbitration provision,” the panel continued. “An arbitration clause can still bind the parties, even if the parties fully performed the contract years ago. … HBO does not dispute the existence of a valid agreement, the included arbitration provision, or the incorporated confidentiality provision, but rather the ‘continuing validity’ of the agreement and the arbitration provision. Thus, a valid arbitration agreement exists.”

Leaving Neverland received mix reviews. Fans of Jackson, of course, hated the documentary because the legendary artist is not alive to respond to the allegations levelled against him in the film.

The project won a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special in 2019. 

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