Chaos and confusion reigned in the music world for a few hours on Friday when several news outlets reported that Sony Music confessed to selling fake Michael Jackson songs. No such admission actually took place. But the bout of misinformation did reignite interest and attention in a conspiracy theory — and pending court case — that’s been raging for years.
At issue are three songs (“Breaking News,” “Keep Your Head Up” and “Monster”) that Sony’s Epic Records released on the posthumous King of Pop album Michael in 2010. Since the record’s release, a handful of Jackson fans and relatives have claimed that the vocals on those three songs were actually sung by an impersonator, pointing to inconsistencies in the ways the tracks surfaced. One fan, Vera Serova, brought a class-action lawsuit in 2014 against Sony and other players including a co-executor of Jackson’s estate and the producers involved in the songs. In response, Sony and a lawyer for Jackson’s estate both vigorously defended the authenticity of the songs, citing vocal directors, engineers and musicologists who say the songs were sung by Jackson.
This week, while the case proceedings are still ongoing, the defendants appeared in court to discuss whether the album’s liner notes are protected by the First Amendment. According to sources speaking to Variety, an attorney for Jackson’s estate used a phrase along the lines of “even if the vocals weren’t Jackson’s” — which was taken by some attendees at the hearing to be an admission that Sony indeed that the songs were faked. The publication Hip Hop N More ran a headline on Thursday that said Sony “concedes in court they released fake Michael Jackson songs,” and several other outlets picked up the information as fact.
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Per Variety, all the reports stem from the misunderstanding of the lawyer’s hypothetical remark. “No one has conceded that Michael Jackson did not sing on the songs,” Zia Modabber, a lawyer representing both Sony and the Jackson estate in the matter, said in a statement. “The hearing Tuesday was about whether the First Amendment protects Sony Music and the Estate and there has been no ruling on the issue of whose voice is on the recordings.”
But Sony and Jackson’s estate have been defending their original claim of authenticity with less enthusiasm than before. In December, the parties said it might be possible that the songs are fake — but if so, the label should not be liable for fraud, because they believed the producers’ claims of authenticity. A court decision on the label’s culpability is due within 90 days.