The company that produced the Michael Jackson “performance” at the Billboard Music Awards this year has filed a $10 million countersuit against Hologram USA, which had preemptively sued it prior to the broadcast. Although Hologram USA claims to hold the patent to the projection of the Tupac Shakur hologram (but not the animation) that appeared at Coachella 2012, the people who created Jackson’s “Slave to the Rhythm” awards show appearance, Pulse Evolution, claim what they made did not infringe on Hologram USA’s property, according to The Hollywood Reporter. (THR is owned by Prometheus Global Media, which also owns Billboard; the source article claims that Prometheus is no longer a defendant in Hologram USA’s suit.)
In legal filings, Pulse’s lawyers refer to its Jackson creation as an “animation projected onto a screen.” Moreover, they called Hologram USA owner Alki David “nothing more than a fraud.” Their complaint cites an interview David did on CNN and press releases his company released as evidence that he was attempting to take credit for their creation. Additionally, Pulse calls David a “notorious infringer of intellectual property rights” and says that his public statements on the Jackson performance diverted attention away from Pulse at the time the company was launched. In their lawsuit, Pulse claims that Hologram USA has caused “immeasurable harm” to its brand and reputation in the eyes of the public.
But last February, David said he outbid Pulse executive chairman John Textor – who was previously the CEO of the now bankrupt company Digital Domain, which made the Tupac hologram – to rights to the technology used for Tupac; those rights were held by a European company called Musion Das Hologram Limited. Textor’s Pulse were reportedly working with a similarly named but different European company called Musion Systems Limited.
David’s lawsuit, which has focused on Textor and the Michael Jackson estate as targets, claims Pulse “elected to ignore the rights they previously sought to obtain.” David’s lawyers claim Pulse has created “significant confusion” in the marketplace, diluting the Hologram USA brand.
Both the Jackson and Tupac performances were made using a variation on the 19th Century stage magic trick known as Pepper’s Ghost, which uses mirrors placed at an angle to bring a two-dimensional performance to life. Pulse claims that David’s continual referral to the Jackson performance as a “hologram” “highlights David’s complete lack of technical expertise and involvement in the creation and development of the Michael Jackson Animation.”
Pulse CEO Frank Patterson underscored that distinction in an interview with USA Today in May, calling the Jackson performance “an illusion,” and Textor, who worked on the Tupac hologram, said the Jackson performance was “not a hologram.” But the article affirmed they used a refined version of Pepper’s Ghost. The difference they said was that the Jackson animation was harder to create. “Tupac had no hair, and just stood there, where Michael had to be all over the place,” Patterson said.
“When the people who knew Michael best started crying at the show, we knew we’d done something,” Textor told the paper. “Then we started crying.”