Berman & Asbel, LLP

Pennsylvania teens may be 'beat' by Jackson estate

What was meant to be a light-hearted effort to encourage reading has become a probate case with a major celebrity estate. Teens at the Lansdowne Public Library made a YouTube video in which they changed the lyrics to the Michael Jackson hit "Beat It" into "Read It." Sony-ATV Records, which is the owner of Jackson's songs through his estate, is refusing to grant the do-gooders rights to post the version of the song.

In response to this case, which pits a few kids from Pennsylvania against a major record label with a likely extensive legal team, the teens and staff of the library posted another video. Sony-ATV had blocked the original video on YouTube, so a new one was posted addressing the issue, entitled "Just UN Ban-it." The library director says in the video "If [Michael Jackson] would have seen this 'Read It' video, he would have blessed it, and I'm just ashamed at Sony." Whether or not MJ would have approved, the estate did not give their rights to the usage of the property.

Post-probate disputes like this one are not common for the average person, however, we often see them play out with celebrity cases. Actors, writers and musicians leave the rights to their property with their loved ones and executors with the thought that the estate will be protected and not misused. In some cases, like this one, it can cause serious headaches when the property is used without the estate's permission.

For most estate planners, property like original music will likely not be part of their will. However, the emphasis on choosing executors that will reflect the character of the decedent can help to keep some of the issues like this one from occurring.

Source: ABCNews, "Teens' 'Beat It' Parody Sparks Feud With Michael Jackson's Estate, Record Label," Anthony Castellation, Nov. 28, 2012


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