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Michael Jackson estate goes legal over HBO documentary

By | Published on Friday 22 February 2019

Michael Jackson

The Michael Jackson estate has gone legal over HBO’s new documentary that puts the spotlight on child abuse allegations made against the late king of pop.

Reps for the estate have already called on the US broadcaster to drop ‘Leaving Neverland’, which premiered at the recent Sundance film festival and is now due to air in both the US and the UK next month, on HBO and Channel 4 respectively. The documentary features two men who accuse Jackson of abusing them as children.

The estate argues that the two alleged victims are not credible, and that the film’s director Dan Reed failed to interview anyone who would have defended Jackson against their allegations. But HBO has insisted it will still screen the programme.

Hence the legal action. But on what grounds are the estate’s lawyers suing? Libel? Personality rights? Copyright? No, breach of contract of course! According to legal papers, back in 1992 HBO entered into a contract with Jackson when it aired a Bucharest date on his ‘Dangerous Tour’, and that contract had a non-disparagement clause in it. Which, the estate now say, precludes HBO from disparaging the singer in any of its future works.

The lawsuit also notes that HBO’s current chief Richard Plepler was already working at the WarnerMedia-owned media firm back in 1992 so “must have known, or should have known, about HBO’s contract with Jackson”.

For its part, HBO insists that the screening of ‘Leaving Neverland’ will go ahead. It said in a statement: “Despite the desperate lengths taken to undermine the film, our plans remain unchanged. HBO will move forward with the airing of ‘Leaving Neverland’, the two-part documentary, on 3 and 4 Mar. This will allow everyone the opportunity to assess the film and the claims in it for themselves”.