News

Jackson verdict could shake up entertainment world

Jackson verdict could shake up entertainment world

Brian Panish, attorney for the Michael Jackson family delivers his closing argument to jurors in a packed courtroom in downtown Los Angeles, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013. Panish asked a Los Angeles jury to act as the conscience of the community and award damages for the loss of the pop star's life. Photo: Associated Press/AP Photo/Los Angeles Times, Al Seib

By Eric Kelsey

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of late pop star Michael Jackson against his concert promoter is now in the hands of a jury, and the verdict could have far-reaching implications for how the entertainment industry does business with its biggest stars.

The 21-week trial, which has opened a window into the private life and last days of the King of Pop, has put not only concert promoter AEG Live on trial but also the entertainment industry’s live-performance business model, analysts say.

After closing arguments concluded on Thursday, the judge sent the jury to deliberate and a verdict is expected some time next week, if not earlier. Jackson family lawyers have suggested in court documents that damages could exceed $1 billion.

“If AEG is found liable, that puts these companies on the line for millions and billions of dollars, and it is already causing the industry to rethink how the structure is set up,” said Jo Piazza, the author of “Celebrity, Inc.” and a celebrity branding consultant.

Currently, entertainment producers typically pay up-front sums running into millions of dollars to performers in exchange for being able to have greater control over some of the performers’ affairs.

The lawsuit alleged that “AEG came to control much of Jackson’s life. The home Jackson lived in was provided by AEG; his finances were dependent on AEG, and his assets stood security if he failed to perform.” Those assets included The Sony/ATV music catalog owned by Jackson, which even includes iconic Beatles songs.

The verdict “could have a chilling effect on how much micro-management of a star’s life companies like AEG and other production companies have,” Piazza said.

“But the reason the micro-management even exists is to make sure that the celebrities, the talent, is in the best position possible to make money for the production company,” she added.

That kind of control is the crux of the wrongful death lawsuit filed by Jackson’s mother, Katherine Jackson, and his three children.

PROFITS AND RISKS

In the suit, Jackson’s family alleges that privately held AEG Live, one of the world’s top concert promoters, negligently hired cardiologist Conrad Murray as Jackson’s personal physician and ignored signs that the singer was in poor health.

The “Thriller” singer died in 2009 in Los Angeles at age 50 from an overdose of surgical anesthetic propofol.

Murray, who was caring for Jackson as the singer rehearsed for his series of 50 comeback “This Is It” concerts, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in 2011 for administering the propofol that killed the star.

“It’s the kind of case that every entertainment lawyer is paying attention to because everybody in the entertainment industry has assistants and sometimes that entails medical attention as well,” said John Nockleby, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

AEG Live has argued that Jackson had prescription drug and addiction problems for years before entering into any agreement with the company.

It also has said that it did not hire or supervise Murray and could not have foreseen that the physician would have posed a danger to the singer.

“They (AEG Live) chose to run the risk and make a huge profit,” Jackson family attorney Brian Panish said this week in closing arguments.

“The industry is watching and waiting and seeing very much how this plays out,” said Jody Armour, a law professor at the University of Southern California who specializes in personal injury claims.

“It could have a deterrent effect on corporations going forward, and how much and how aggressively they push entertainers to meet their contractual obligations,” he added.

PERFORMANCE-BASED PAY

One change Piazza foresees in the industry’s business model would be in how producers would start coupling an entertainer’s pay together with fulfilling their contract.

“I think the big impact this trial will have is lessening those gigantic, multi-million dollar up-front payments and shifting the model towards a more back-end, profit-sharing model because then it would put the responsibility more on the talent to perform,” she said. “They’ll be making the money based on their performance.”

But Reisman believes that the financial pressure for companies like AEG Live is too significant for a substantial change in how they operate or control artists.

“It’s very, very important that AEG knew they had to meet that tour deadline,” Reisman said. “Now, whether or not they knew what this doctor was prescribing, whether or not they authorized it, those are all questions for the jury.”

Recent Headlines

in Sports

This week’s top sports shots

Fresh
little

A look at the biggest stories and best photography in sports this week.

in Entertainment

WATCH: 10 best ‘Simpsons’ episodes

Fresh
In this photo released by Fox, Homer explains why he wants to bring back the annual 4th of July fireworks display, after it's cancelled for budget reasons, in the "Yellow Badge of Cowardge" Season Finale episode of "The Simpsons," in May 2014. The full 25-year run of "The Simpsons" will arrive on cable channel FXX with a summer marathon, to be paired this fall with a digital extravaganza that could turn other TV shows yellow with envy. "I'm not going to over-promise, but I think this website will provide you with affordable health care," longtime "Simpsons" executive producer Al Jean told a TV critics' meeting Monday, July 21, 2014.

The recent marathon of all 552 episodes of "The Simpsons" inspired us to sit down and come up with our 10 favorite episodes. Enjoy!

in Sports

This weekend’s sports schedule

Fresh
yankees

A complete look at this weekend's sports schedule.

in Music

Robert Plant urges Jimmy Page to give up Led Zeppelin reunion

2012 Kennedy Center Honorees and members of the band Led Zeppelin, from left, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and Robert Plant chat on the red carpet after arriving at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors Performance and Gala Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012 at the State Department in Washington.

Robert Plant has urged his former Led Zeppelin bandmate Jimmy Page to end his war of words with the singer and concentrate on recording new music.

in Entertainment

Lena Dunham and Kate Mara hit by a falling sign

Lena Dunham, of HBO's "Girls," arrives at the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards held at The Nokia Theatre  in Los Angeles.

The "Girls" and "House of Cards" actresses saw stars of their own after an accident at a Venice premiere.

Bellingham Traffic