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Michael Jackson-The Movie

Michael Jackson
AP
Michael Jackson

I've been reading through the 600 pages of court filings submitted in the Michael Jackson estate case, and, I'm telling you, there's gotta be a better way.

Contract legalese is painful.

You want to punish Bernard Madoff? Make him read stuff like this: "For the avoidance of doubt, the Footage shall include the vignettes intended for the jumbotrons at such concert series (the "Vignettes"); provided, prior to the date 24 months after the initial release of the Picture in the United States, Licensor shall be entitled to use such programming only in connection with live concert events and after such period, there will be no restriction on Licensor's right...with respect...thereto...." zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Naturally, all the good stuff-the actual money figures being negotiated between the Jackson estate and firms like AEG, Columbia/Sony, Apple, and Bravado International (a merchandiser)-are blacked out. Well, almost all.

Court records confirm that Columbia has agreed to pay the Jackson estate and concert promoter AEG "a minimum guarantee" of $60 million for footage of Michael Jackson's rehearsals for his London tour, a deal which Columbia says "provides unprecedented and historic economic benefits for the Estate". The movie will run no longer than 150 minutes, and it will be in theaters no later than December 31st. The studio also wants to create a special "director's cut" and two "special editions", and it wants its staff to get two executive producer credits on the film.

Columbia will screen a proposed final cut to the estate's administrators, John Branca and John McClain (assuming they keep those jobs), and Michael Jackson's production company, which "shall have the right to require that Columbia not include identified portions...which present Michael Jackson in a negative light." If both sides disagree what constitutes "negative", they can go to arbitration.

Ninety percent of Columbia's payments will go to the estate, and ten percent will go to AEG.

Michael Jackson court filings.
CNBC.com
Michael Jackson court filings.

As for the previous contract AEG negotiated with Michael Jackson when he was alive, court filings released to the public have all the money figures blacked out.

All of them.

There was apparently a series of advances which were agreed to, amount unknown, as well as payments Michael was set to receive during the tour.

We don't even learn the interest rate for outstanding principal owed. Some interesting tidbits: AEG agreed to be responsible for "a first class performance by Artist at each Show," and that Jackson was to perform "no less than 80 minutes at each Show, and the maximum show length (including intermissions and support) for each Show shall be 3.5 hours." That's like a Springsteen show.

And now?

Michael Jackson
AP
Michael Jackson

Since his death, there's a proposed amendment with the estate. While no money figures are visible, it appears that whatever transactions take place, after costs, 90 percent of profits go to Jackson's estate, and the rest to AEG.

Also, as previously reported, AEG is encouraging people who bought tickets to the London tour to skip a refund and instead trade in their vouchers for a commemorative ticket. But as further inducement, AEG "may offer and send a copy of a Michael Jackson Memorial Service program" to those who decide against a refund.

There was a late addition to the business offers coming from Apple. Attorneys for the estate say they've negotiated a deal to sell recordings of Jermaine Jackson's performance of "Smile" at his brother's memorial service. "There currently is a heightened demand for such product...which may diminish over time." In other words, tick tock, judge. The estate wants you to sign off on this ASAP. However, Katherine Jackson still gets to read all of these contract offers over, and she can lodge a protest with the court if she wishes.

Michael Jackson court filings.
CNBC.com
Michael Jackson court filings.

Finally, Bravado International, which is cutting deals with both AEG and the estate to sell merchandise, is again riddled with blacked out passages.

We learn nothing about the specific amounts Bravado is willing to pay as an advance, or its proposed royalties and shared revenue streams.

But in the thick of the legalese, I was struck by the wide variety of products that could come to market, and how the lawyers have worked so hard to already divvy them up.

For example, Bravado agrees to let the Jackson estate maintain sole rights to:

  • Music based products (like singing clocks or stuffed animals-the court documents literally suggest those items)
  • Licensing rights involving Jackson's music compositions (like reprinting song lyrics on t-shirts)
  • Video Games
  • Digital products
  • Books
  • Films
  • Museum exhibits
  • High end clothing lines
  • Products bundled in with CDs and DVDs
  • Denim (!!)
  • Fan club and fan club merchandise

Apparently this still leaves plenty for Bravado to make and sell.

The estate says time is of the essence, and when it comes to the contract offers from AEG and Columbia, the judge needs to decide whether to approve those deals by Monday or the offers are void.

Ok, I've got to stop reading for a while. I'm getting a headache.

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  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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