The Michael Jackson Estate ("the Estate") is suing the Walt Disney Company ("Disney") and ABC for unauthorised use of dozens of copyrighted works. The use relates to the Disney produced documentary "The Last Days of Michael Jackson", which Disney claims makes the inclusion of the copyright materials "fair use".
ABC are included in the lawsuit as the broadcaster that aired the program.
The allegation is that at least 30 different copyrighted works owned by the Estate were used without permission, despite Michael Jackson's children specifically asking Disney not to use the materials without first taking a license.
The lawsuit also makes a significant point of Disney's hypocrisy: it is one of the most frequent litigators in the intellectual property courts in the US and around the world, and tenaciously protects its IP. The lawsuit explains further that Disney are even well-known for their narrow and strict interpretation of the "fair use" exception to copyright law. In the past Disney have sent take down notices to social media outlets after users posted pictures of Star Wars toys they had legally purchased.
Disney's argument before the litigation was brought was that as the broadcast is a documentary, the materials were available to it under the "fair use" exception. The Estate's complaint took that argument to Disney in the complaint, constructing a fictitious documentary it might in the future make about Star Wars, using clips and music from the franchise.
The law on copyright does contain an explicit "fair use" exception for documentary makers, and it will now be up to the California District Court to determine whether Disney have gone too far in their use of the Estate's materials.
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