'Private' Michael Jackson Footage Sets off Lawsuit

New documentary intends to use behind-the-scenes footage shot in 2007

Michael Jackson
Carl de Souza/AFP
June 28, 2014 6:26 PM ET

Behind-the-scenes footage of Michael Jackson shot in 2007 has set off a lawsuit between the production company behind a new documentary and the executors of Jackson's estate.

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According to The Hollywood Reporter, Noval Williams Films, the production company behind Michael: The Last Photo Shoots, is suing to show that it has valid rights to use the footage. The film's director, Craig Williams, says that the footage was taken during an interview and photo shoot for Ebony Magazine at the Brooklyn Museum of Art as Jackson was staging his U.S. comeback after living abroad for years. It was his first magazine interview in a decade.

Howard Weitzman, an attorney for Jackson's estate, says that the footage in question is private and owned by the estate. "The makers of the documentary are attempting to exploit footage and photographs of Michael Jackson, which we believe are owned by his Estate," Weitzman says. "The documentary contains footage of Michael during private moments that he never agreed could be publicly and commercially exploited without his consent and/or involvement. Michael never authorized or approved the use of this material in the film."

Noval Williams Films claims in the suit that the Jackson estate had been given the chance to purchase rights to the footage in 2011 and passed on it. Craig Williams says he validly obtained the rights in 2013. Weitzman, on the other hand, has claimed that the footage was shot as "work-for-hire," which would mean that Jackson is considered the author for copyright purposes. The production company is seeking declaratory relief that it is not infringing on copyrights.

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