LOS ANGELES (CN) – A copycat company tricked Michael Jackson fans into giving it money by claiming to “carry on the work” of the singer’s Heal the World Foundation, Jackson’s estate says. One defendant, United Fleet, was incorporated the day Jackson died, and the president of the lead defendant, also called the Heal the World Foundation, asked donors in an Internet posting to “be patient with us and allow the family time to grieve as we wait for the direction they would have us go,” according to the federal complaint.
Two days after Jackson’s death, defendants Heal the World Foundation (HTWF), and/or United Fleet, both based in Indio, set up Web sites as the Heal the World Foundation, a name Jackson trademarked, according to the complaint.
Corporate papers identify Melissa Johnson as president of HTWF, Mel Wilson as its vice president, and Sandhya Deepak as another vice president, the complaint states.
Johnson posted on the Internet messages claiming to have been affiliated with the late singer’s Heal the World Foundation since 1993, according to the complaint.
Johnson allegedly speculated, in her posting, on whether Jackson’s family would “continue his charity work” and urged readers to “be patient with us and allow the family time to grieve as we wait for the direction they would have us go.”
United Fleet was incorporated on June 25 – the day Jackson died, according to the complaint. HTWF was incorporated in March 2008. The two companies list the same address in Indio; HTWF has a second address in Palm Desert.
Immediately after Jackson’s death, defendants Heal the World and United Fleet tried to trademark the name “Heal the World Foundation,” the initials “M.J.,” an exact replica of the logo Jackson used for his foundation, the phrases “King of Pop,” “Thriller,” “Make That Change,” and other names and phrases that the estate says were already registered to Michael Jackson or “unmistakably point to Mr. Jackson and his persona.”
The estate claims the sleight of hand worked, causing fans to donate money to the copycats.
Fans have argued about the legitimacy of the foundation in “lengthy discussions” on Internet forums, according to the lawsuit.
A toy manufacturer that wanted to make Michael Jackson dolls was tricked into approaching the fake foundation, the estate claims.
Jackson created the foundation in 1992, to fight world hunger, homelessness and child exploitation and abuse. He donated all the profits from his Dangerous World Tour to the charity, along with his entire fee for performing during the halftime show for the 1993 Superbowl, the estate says.
The administrators of the estate are represented by Vincent Chieffo with Greenberg Traurig. They seek an injunction and damages for trademark infringement, violations of publicity rights and cybersquatting.