Quincy Jones Testifies in $30M Royalty Fight With Michael Jackson Estate

Music producer Quincy Jones in 2014. (Photo courtesy Sam Santos/Canadian Film Centre)

LOS ANGELES (CN) – Music producer, composer and arranger Quincy Jones took the stand Thursday morning to make his case in a dispute over $30 million in royalties he claims Michael Jackson’s estate owes him.

During several testy exchanges with MJJ Productions’ attorney Howard Weitzman over the course of almost 2 1/2 hours, Jones frequently expressed his lack of interest in the legal aspects of his career. He acknowledged he only looked at the signature pages of his producer agreements for three collaborations with Jackson, including the albums “Off the Wall,” “Thriller” and “Bad.”

Jones, wearing a maroon shirt, black tie, gray suit and shaded glasses, repeatedly returned to a common refrain: he was only interested in the music and not the pieces of paper he’d signed to secure royalties.

When Weitzman asked the 84-year-old if he believed Jackson had done the right thing by him financially, Jones was forthright.

“That’s open for debate,” Jones said.

In October 2013, Jones sued Jackson’s estate MJJ Productions and Sony Music Entertainment for breach of a Nov. 1, 1978, producer’s agreement, and a Dec. 1, 1985, producer’s agreement with the King of Pop.

In addition to the three albums, Jones also worked with Jackson on the 1978 movie “The Wiz” and Stephen Spielberg’s 1982 classic film “E.T.” he told the court.

After Jackson died in 2009, Jones says Jackson’s three children, through his estate, began releasing new material without paying Jones his share. The new works included soundtracks for the documentary “This Is It” and the Cirque du Soliel production “Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour.”

Jones also says the Jackson children secretly entered into a joint venture agreement with Sony Music that exploited the master recordings of the music he produced with Jackson.

Jones seeks $30 million in alleged unpaid royalties. During the trial in LA County Superior Court Judge Michael Stern’s courtroom downtown, jurors heard that Jones had received $18 million in compensation from the contracts.

After taking the stand, Jones told his attorney Mike McKool that during his 70-year-career he learned that he could only make successful records with “extreme love, respect and trust.” He had left the negotiating of his contracts to his attorneys because he did not know how to translate the “legalese.”

“That’s not my thing. I do music,” Jones said.

During cross-examination on Thursday, Weitzman seized on Jones apparent ignorance of the contracts he had signed, asking him on multiple occasions if he believed he was entitled to things that were not in writing.

“When you put the energy into the record, you should get paid every time it’s performed,” Jones said, at one point signaling his impatience with Weitzman by tapping his fingers on the space in front of him like a piano.

Jones grew agitated when Weitzman played several early demos of Jackson’s songs, including “Workin’ Day and Night,” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” “Billie Jean,” and an a cappella version of “Beat It” that Jackson had recorded at his Hayvenhurst family home. The attorney then played the final album versions of the songs.

“What’s your point, Howard,” Jones said at one point. At another, he snapped: “What are you trying to prove?”

Weitzman said he was only trying to demonstrate Jackson’s contributions to the finished songs. He asked Jones why he had sued Jackson’s estate.

“Because I was cheated out of money, that’s why. A lot of money,” Jones replied.

Both sides rested after Jones’ testimony and closing arguments are expected Monday at 9:30 a.m.

 

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