Judge: Katherine Jackson associate can't profit from merchandise line
A federal judge rejected a novel legal argument Friday that would have allowed Michael Jackson's mother and her business partner to profit from a line of merchandise separate from the late star's estate.
In a 15-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson granted summary judgment in a copyright-infringement case brought by the executors of Jackson's estate and issued a permanent injunction barring Canadian entrepreneur Howard Mann from trading on the singer's name.
"There is undisputed evidence that Defendants intended in bad faith to profit from use of Jackson’s name, by registering multiple domain names containing his name or the initials 'MJ' to sell Jackson-related products," the judge wrote.
Mann and Jackson's mother, Katherine, collaborated on a coffee table book and calendar that were sold without the estate's authorization. The 82-year-old Jackson family matriarch received a cut of the profits and other money amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, Mann told The Times in 2010. Katherine Jackson said then that she needed the money and wanted estate executors John Branca and John McClain to "leave Howard alone."
Mann's lawyers had argued in court papers that his company, Vintage Pop, was forever immunized against lawsuits accusing it of exploiting Michael Jackson's intellectual property because of a ruling in a 2004 suit by the singer. Jackson had sued Vintage Pop for copyright infringement and other claims, but then refused to submit to a deposition and stopped paying his lawyers. A judge dismissed the case in 2006 "with prejudice" -- meaning Jackson couldn't bring the same claims against Vintage Pop again.
But in his ruling Pregerson wrote that the executors could sue Vintage Pop if their allegations were completely different than the ones Jackson made in the abandoned lawsuit.
"(A)ll of the misconduct alleged in this suit took place long after the 2004 action, and the claims from the two suits therefore do not arise from the same transactional nucleus of facts," the judge wrote.
A spokesman for the executors said in a statement that they were "extremely pleased with the Court's ruling," and noted that Michael Jackson's intellectual property is "owned by the late singer's Estate for the benefit of his children and mother."
The relationship between the Jackson family and the estate has been contentious, with three of the star's siblings claiming that the executors derive their power from a fraudulent will.
Mann's lawyers said they wanted to raise questions about the validity of the will at the trial, but estate lawyer Howard Weitzman said in a statement that the judge's ruling means that a planned September proceeding will focus on determining the financial damages sustained by the estate.
Mann did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
-- Harriet Ryan
Photo: Katherine Jackson arrives at the courthouse in Los Angeles in November 2011. Credit: Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images