Las Vegas jukebox show MJ Live is suing the estate of Michael Jackson, accusing the late pop star’s lawyers of infringing the show’s intellectual property.
The suit, filed on Wednesday in Nevada federal court, arises from allegations that the estate threatened legal action against the show for use of the King of Pop’s likeness during its touring production. MJ Live first hit the Las Vegas Strip over a decade ago, but the lawsuit states that the Jackson estate only recently began sending cease-and-desist letters to venues outside Nevada which host the show, demanding the cancellation of upcoming tour dates.
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MJ Live first premiered in 2012 and has, per the lawsuit, been performed over 3,800 times since then. Currently in residence at the Tropicana Las Vegas, the show also regularly tours across the country and in Mexico, Guatemala and Tahiti. Billed as “the number one tribute concert in the world,” the show features a Michael Jackson impersonator who leads fans through the late pop star’s greatest hits.
The suit claims that the cease-and-desist letters were sent to six venues across California, Florida, Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin, and refers to them as “intentional and wrongful interference” that was “intended to harm Plaintiff.” A spokesperson for the Jackson estate clarified that these letters were not meant to end MJ Live in Nevada, but to stop it from leaving the state, where they say the show is not of a quality they would authorize.
MJ Live also claims that the Jackson estate infringed on the show’s intellectual property, arguing that it has, throughout its 10-year run, developed its own trademark rights for the show’s name and that the estate’s use of MJ the Musical on Broadway is a violation of those rights.
“Over the past eleven and one-half years…Plaintiff has spent millions of dollars advertising and promoting its MJ Live show,” the suit claims. “Plaintiff estimates that over 2,500,000 audience members, clapping and singing in their seats, jumping to their feet, and dancing in the aisles, have experienced the joy, excitement and thrill of MJ Live.”
Wednesday’s lawsuit refers to Nevada’s specific likeness laws, which allow for the use of a celebrity’s appearance by “impersonators in live performances.” Citing this statute, along with the First Amendment, MJ Live asserts it has a right to “impersonate Michael Jackson” in its shows.
Jonathan Steinsapir, an attorney for the Jackson estate, told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement that “this lawsuit — including the claim that this impersonator show somehow owns a ‘trademark’ in MJ, a trademark owned by Michael Jackson’s Estate and long associated with Michael and his Estate — is beyond frivolous. The Estate, as always, will vigorously defend all intellectual property rights of Michael Jackson.”
The Hollywood Reporter reached out to MJ Live for comment as well.
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