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Michael Jackson Fans Accused of Hacking Sony’s File Sharing Server Receive Suspended Sentences

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Two British fans of pop star Michael Jackson were handed suspended sentences yesterday after serious hacking and conspiracy charges were dropped.

Leicester Crown Court heard that a security flaw in the eCard file-sharing system used by Sony Music – known as the ‘Sony server’ – allowed two British men, James Marks, 27, and Jamie McCormick, 26, access to thousands of copyrighted files.

The pair pled guilty to charges of ‘unauthorised access to computing material’ after the initially-laid charges of ‘conspiracy to defraud’ were dropped by Crown Prosecutors.

The investigation of Marks and McCormick was initiated by Sony Music when a producer alerted the record company that unreleased material he claims to have co-written with Jackson was obtained by the two alleged hackers.

When it was discovered that Marks and McCormick were in the UK, Sony turned the matter over to the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) to investigate further and build a case against them.

SOCA, which is unofficially referred to as the ‘British FBI’, was established in 2006 as a public body of the UK Government to participate in the investigation and prosecution of cyber terrorists, drug traffickers and other offenders involved in serious organised crime.

Marks and McCormick, however, merely downloaded some songs.

Nevertheless, SOCA conducted raids on the homes of both men in mid-2011, during which they were handcuffed, arrested and later charged with conspiracy to defraud.

As part of the raids, SOCA seized computers, USB devices, hard drives, CDs and DVDs. Agents also raided their workplaces and the home of McCormick’s partner.

Head of Cyber Investigations at SOCA, Mick Jamieson, claimed that Marks and McCormick not only knew what they were doing when accessing Sony’s server, but also knew the consequences if they were caught.

“The internet’s a fantastic tool for everyone to use, but sadly there are one or two individuals who choose to misuse it,” Jamieson said.

“The authorities are now able to to identify what you’re doing, find out who you are, and come and arrest you.”

While Marks and McCormick conceded to accessing Sony’s file-sharing server, the pair contend that the server has never been ‘secure’, and that blackmarket music traders and prominent online remixers have exploited the server’s lack of security for quite some time – many of whom Sony are well aware.

Yet of all those who’ve had access, only Marks and McCormick were arrested and charged.

The case of Marks and McCormick centres around their joint quest to find evidence that Sony and the Estate of Michael Jackson defrauded millions of Jackson’s fans when they released the Michael album in December 2010.

Michael sold more than two million copies worldwide. The album includes three songs alleged by many – including the Jackson family – to be forgeries, sung by an impostor vocalist.

Those three songs – “Breaking News,” “Monster” and “Keep Your Head Up” – are now infamously known as the Cascio tracks.

The tracks were sold to Jackson’s estate in mid-2010 by the pop star’s longtime associates Eddie Cascio and James Porte as part of a collection 12 tracks they claim Jackson recorded in Cascio’s basement.

The nine other Cascio tracks remain unreleased.

In the case of Marks McCormick, it was alleged by SOCA and Crown prosecutors in the UK that the men accessed Sony’s online server with the intention of stealing thousands of files, including Michael Jackson’s entire catalog.

But Marks says those allegations are patently untrue:

“Please don’t believe the press or SOCA.”

Both Marks and McCormick are huge Michael Jackson fans, and have legally purchased copies of all of Jackson’s commercially available material – purchases which have financially benefitted Sony.

The men also reject SOCA’s assertion that they downloaded files from Sony’s server with the intention of defrauding the record company to the tune of millions of dollars.

Marks says he and McCormick only had one goal when searching the servers for material:

“The reason we were on those servers was to find the Cascio tracks.”

Marks, McCormick and many of their fellow Jackson fans insist that the vocals on the Cascio tracks were performed by Jason Cupeta – a deputy sheriff in the American state of Maryland who goes by the pseudonym Jason Malachi.

Despite the fact that Jason Malachi is not a Sony artist, SOCA listed a number of Malachi’s songs among the almost 8,000 files allegedly stolen from Sony’s server by Marks and McCormick.

“According to the prosecution, I downloaded Jason Malachi files from the Sony server too,” quipped Marks, explaining that SOCA seemed to have confused the contents of a generic Firefox downloads folder on his computer with what had been obtained from Sony’s server.

The original charges levelled at Marks and McCormick were far more serious than the ‘unauthorised access’ charges they ultimately pled guilty to, and carried much heavier legal penalties should they have gone to trial and been found guilty.

One of the original charges was ‘conspiracy to defraud’.

In a witness statement provided on behalf of Jackson’s estate, a rep declared the Estate’s ‘full support’ of the prosecution of Marks and McCormick.

If Marks and McCormick had been convicted of the charge, the men could have faced serious jail time – for merely downloading songs.

The conspiracy to defraud charge was based on private chat logs discovered by SOCA during a sweep of their computer hard drives.

SOCA alleged that Marks and McCormick had conversations in which they masterminded a plan to financially exploit some of the files they had obtained from Sony’s server.

However, Marks and McCormick insist that the conversation in question took place in March 2011 – one month before they even knew of the server’s existence.

“Those conversations were regarding privately obtained material, before any server access took place,” says Marks.

In the end, the authorities seem to have agreed. The conspiracy to defraud charges were dropped.

So what were Marks and McCormick discussing selling in the March 2011 chat logs uncovered by SOCA?

According to Marks and McCormick, prior to learning about the Sony server the pair had acquired a handful of unreleased Michael Jackson demos in a private transaction with another fan.

Marks and McCormick say they paid 80 pounds for the files.

Once they’d obtained the files, Marks and McCormick discussed the idea of selling them to other Jackson fans – the same way they’d been sold to them.

“We discussed the possibility of selling them to other fans,” admits Marks.

“But we decided against it, and that was that. No sale was made and we never shared the material. We didn’t want to risk being responsible for the songs leaking to the public.”

The underground trade of rare recordings is widespread, and the practice is by no means exclusive to the Michael Jackson fan community.

In fact, the circulation unreleased material is common in the online fan communities of most major artists. The selling of unreleased material even happens in plain sight, on fan forums and websites such as eBay.

So if these activities are commonplace, then why were Marks and McCormick singled out by Sony and aggressively pursued by SOCA?

According to Marks and McCormick, it was to quash their efforts to investigate and expose the Cascio tracks as forgeries.

In the end, the pair were and were handed six month prison sentences, suspended for a year.

Speaking outside Leicester Crown Court yesterday, Marks apologised for downloading files from the Sony server, but maintained that he was determined to prove that Jackson didn’t sing on the Cascio tracks.

Later on, via Twitter, Marks added:

“I’m grateful to the Judge for being lenient. I fully accept that I accessed the server and apologise to Sony… I wish to move on and rebuild my life.”

Marks and McCormick will each complete 100 hours community service as part of their plea deal.

A podcast series detailing my investigation of the Cascio tracks, called Faking Michael, is currently in production. Subscribe to Faking Michael on Apple PodcastsSpotify or YouTube to be notified when episodes are released.


Damien Shields is the author of the book Michael Jackson: Songs & Stories From The Vault examining the King of Pop’s creative process, and the producer of the podcast The Genesis of Thriller which takes you inside the recording studio as Jackson and his team create the biggest selling album in music history.
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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Jason Rodgers

    January 12, 2013 at 10:56 pm

    Great post Damien……….have been putting bits and pieces together when i stumbled on the whole Birchey tweets/reports etc last night.Personally i think its fucking fantastic that an mj fan gained access to mj material on the servers at Sony with a view to expose the Cascio bullshit.

  2. Admin2

    January 13, 2013 at 12:48 am

    Excellent as always. Thank you for the truth!

  3. Mykel Hackney

    January 23, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    Thanks. Now, watch Sony, the fraudulent executors and AEG all do whatever they want to do and claim anything they want to claim, and blame it all on some ‘crazed’ Michael Jackson fan, from now on. Please keep posting the truth.

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Cascio Tracks

Supreme Court Judge Grills Sony Lawyer Over ‘Contradictory’ Arguments in Alleged Michael Jackson Fraud

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A lawyer defending Sony Music and the Estate of Michael Jackson in a consumer fraud lawsuit has today argued that the billion-dollar corporations should be able to sell forgeries to unwitting consumers – without being held liable for doing so.

During the California Supreme Court hearing, which was streamed live around the world, Sony attorney Zia Modabber was pulled up for presenting contradictory arguments when attempting to justify the record company’s false attribution of three songs to Jackson on the 2010 Michael album.

The hearing centred around a class action lawsuit filed by Californian consumer Vera Serova – a Michael Jackson fan who purchased the Michael album under the premise that it was a collection of unreleased songs performed by the King of Pop.

In her lawsuit, Serova contends that three of the songs on Michael – “Breaking News,” “Monster” and “Keep Your Head Up” – are forgeries, and that Jackson’s estate and Sony misled her and millions of consumers around the world by falsely representing those forgeries as authentic Jackson material.

Today’s Supreme Court hearing focused specifically on Sony and the Estate’s culpability in the matter.

The corporations argue that the First Amendment (free speech) gives them the constitutional right to lie to consumers without remedy, and that they should be removed from the lawsuit because of this.

In fact, Sony and the Estate have been petitioning to be removed from this case for 6 years, alleging that plaintiff Serova strategically filed her lawsuit to prevent the record company from exercising their First Amendment rights by participating in the public dialogue regarding the authenticity of the songs.

The dialogue in question is the wording on the reverse side of the album cover, which stipulates that the vocals on the album were “performed by Michael Jackson” (see below).

ABOVE: REVERSE SIDE OF MICHAEL ALBUM COVER

In a 2016 hearing regarding this matter, attorney Zia Modabber argued on behalf of Sony and the Estate that if anyone were to be held liable for the fraud it should be the original producers of the songs – Eddie Cascio and James Porte – because they provided them under the false pretence that they were authentic.

Today, in front of seven Supreme Court Justices, Mr. Modabber made the same argument on behalf of Sony and the Estate.

In what was a rollercoaster hearing, Modabber told the court that Sony and the Estate were “100%” certain that the vocals on the songs in question were authentic based on an investigation conducted by former Estate attorney Howard Weitzman in November 2010.

A few minutes later, in a complete about-face, Modabber claimed that neither Sony nor the Estate were in a position to know who sang the vocals – a backflip which Justice Groban took issue with:

“How can it be both? Why is Sony saying with 100% certainty that Michael is the singer if you weren’t certain? Which is essentially what I hear you saying now.”

Mr. Modabber also made a number of arguments throughout his 30-minute presentation which seemed only to benefit plaintiff Serova’s side.

At one point, Modabber explained the identity of the artist is what gives art its meaning and value. In other words, if Michael Jackson wasn’t singing on the songs in question, they’d be irrelevant and worthless:

“The identity of the artist is part and parcel of the art. It imparts meaning to the art.”

The attorney, on behalf of Sony and the Estate, went on to give an example:

“There’s a song that Michael wrote called ‘Leave Me Alone‘, and it’s about being persecuted by the press. When Michael Jackson sings that song – because it’s Michael Jackson singing it – it gives a certain meaning to that song. If I sang that song – nobody cares about me – it doesn’t have the same meaning as if Michael Jackson sings that song. And that’s why authors and the source of the art are part of – and intimately connected to – the art itself… It undeniably adds to the meaning of the art.”

Without Michael Jackson’s name on the songs in question, they couldn’t commercially exploit them.

Therefore, according to Sony’s logic, the company had no choice other than to falsely attribute the authorship to Jackson in order to give them meaning and value in the eyes of consumers.

In what can only be described and an own goal, Modabber continued by asserting that the consumers of art want to know who the artist is, and that he cannot think of a scenario in which the identity of the artist doesn’t matter:

“Imagine art, out in the world, with no attribution of authorship. Imagine you just didn’t know who it came from or what the source was. It’s not the same. There is a character and a quality and an impact and a curiosity by those who consume the art about where it came from and what the source was. It adds meaning to it. We want to know who it is. We want to know where it came from. We want to know what inspired it. And part of that is the identity of the artist. And so I can’t think of a situation where the identity of the artist doesn’t matter.”

More to come when the California Supreme Court hands down their ruling on this matter.

For those of you who are interested, a podcast series detailing my investigation of this case, called Faking Michael, is currently in production. Subscribe to Faking Michael on Apple PodcastsSpotify or YouTube to be notified when episodes are released.


Damien Shields is the author of the book Michael Jackson: Songs & Stories From The Vault examining the King of Pop’s creative process, and the producer of the podcast The Genesis of Thriller which takes you inside the recording studio as Jackson and his team create the biggest selling album in music history.
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Court Date Set in Supreme Court Battle Over Legal Right to Sell Alleged Michael Jackson Forgeries

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Sony Music and the Estate of Michael Jackson will again fight for their right to sell alleged forgeries as authentic Jackson songs in an oral argument set to be heard by the Supreme Court of California on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

The hearing centres around a class action lawsuit filed by Californian consumer Vera Serova, who purchased the Michael album – released by Sony and Jackson’s estate in 2010 – under the premise that it was a collection of unreleased songs recorded by pop star Michael Jackson.

In her lawsuit, Serova alleges that three of the songs on Michael are forgeries – sung by an impostor vocalist – and that she, along with millions of fans around the world, were misled when the pop star’s estate and record company falsely represented the tracks as authentic Jackson material in the album’s product labelling and advertising.

The three songs in question – “Breaking News,” “Monster” and “Keep Your Head Up” – were produced by Jackson associates Eddie Cascio and James Porte and are known as the ‘Cascio tracks’.

Cascio, Porte and their production company are also included in the lawsuit – sued by Serova for fraud. The May 24 hearing will not deal with their culpability.

The lawsuit has been in the California court system for almost eight years, since June 2014. For six of those years, Sony and the Estate have argued that it is their constitutional right to sell forgeries under the First Amendment – the right to free speech – and they should therefore not be liable in this case.

In a 2016 hearing, Sony lawyer Zia Modabber argued that if anyone were to be held liable, it should be Cascio and Porte, because they sold the songs to Sony and the Estate under the premise that they were authentic.

After several rulings and subsequent appeals from both sides in the lower courts, the Supreme Court of California will finally decide whether Sony and the Estate should face the music in this case.

If Sony and the Estate can successfully convince the Supreme Court that they should indeed be able to sell forgeries as authentic Jackson material, they will be removed from the case – once and for all.

And if plaintiff Serova prevails, the corporations may be forced to decide between settling the case – which would involve dissociating Jackson from the songs and removing them from record stores and streaming platforms around the world – or defending their actions at trial.

Serova’s position is supported by several consumer advocacy groups and government branches, including the California Attorney General.

In a press release issued on January 29, 2021, the AG said:

“Products must deliver on their claims. If someone buys an album from a recording artist, they should expect that the songs on the album were made by that artist unless noted otherwise… We must hold companies accountable to stand by their products. Companies have a First Amendment right to communicate, but their claims must be informed and accurate.”

Sony is supported by the First Amendment Coalition.

Counsel for both sides will present their oral arguments remotely via video link, while the public will be able to stream the hearing live via the judicial branch website.

Regardless of the Supreme Court’s ruling regarding Sony and the Estate’s liability, the fraud component of Serova’s lawsuit against Cascio, Porte and their production company will move forward.

At that time, Serova will finally be able to add the alleged singer of the forgeries, Jason Cupeta, as a defendant to her lawsuit. 

Cupeta is Deputy Sheriff at the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office who goes by the artistic pseudonym Jason Malachi.

Serova first informed the court of her intention to add Cupeta in a March 2018 filing, but has been unable to complete this process due to the case being stayed pending the outcome of the oral arguments set to be heard by the Supreme Court on May 24.

A podcast series detailing my investigation of this case, called Faking Michael, is currently in production. Subscribe to Faking Michael on Apple PodcastsSpotify or YouTube to be notified when episodes are released.


Damien Shields is the author of the book Michael Jackson: Songs & Stories From The Vault examining the King of Pop’s creative process, and the producer of the podcast The Genesis of Thriller which takes you inside the recording studio as Jackson and his team create the biggest selling album in music history.
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First Amendment Coalition to Support Sony and the Jackson Estate in Fake Songs Lawsuit

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There has been yet another twist in the class action lawsuit filed by Californian consumer Vera Serova against Sony Music and the Estate of Michael Jackson regarding three allegedly fake songs commercially released on the 2010 Michael album.

In documents filed with the California Supreme Court yesterday, an organisation called The First Amendment Coalition has requested permission to file an amicus brief in support of Sony and the Estate’s purported constitutional right to sell fake songs as authentic Michael Jackson material.

FAC’s request comes after four separate amici were filed in support of plaintiff Serova by several consumer protection groups along with the California Attorney General’s Office.

All previously filed briefs support Serova’s assertion that this is a straightforward case of false advertising, and that billion-dollar corporations should not be able to commercially label fake art as authentic.

They also assert that by filing an anti-SLAPP motion against Serova, Sony and the Estate misappropriated a statute which is supposed to protect the general public against the limitless resources of wealthy corporations, and to prevent those corporations from intimidating the public into abandoning legal action against them.

Nine consumer protection organisations stated in a joint filing that Sony and the Estate have misused the anti-SLAPP statute to achieve the exact opposite of its intended purpose.

But according to documents filed yesterday, The First Amendment Coalition believes that if the Supreme Court rules in plaintiff Serova’s favour, and if a precedent is set that Sony and the Estate cannot sell fake songs as authentic Jackson material, it could have “significant implications for many different First Amendment contexts beyond the particular circumstances of this case.”

In this case, Sony asserts that they should not be held accountable for the statements made on the Michael album cover and in their television commercial, because those statements were “noncommercial” in nature. Rather, they argue, those statements are merely their contribution to the ongoing public debate about whether the vocals on three of the songs were authentic or fake, and that this makes it free speech under the First Amendment.

FAC has indicated that they will stand with Sony on this matter.

According to the mission statement published on their website, FAC is a nonprofit public interest organisation dedicated to “advancing free speech” and “public participation in civic affairs.”

By definition, public participation in civic affairs is a process in which members of society take collective action to address issues of public concern.

This begs the question: Is the definition of FAC’s mission more appropriately applied to a multi-billion dollar corporation’s purported right to claim that a commercial product is legit, when in fact it is fake? Or to a member of the public who seeks to take collective action to address the issue of that multi-billion dollar corporation falsely advertising that same product to millions of unwitting consumers?

Despite Sony and the Estate’s best efforts to stop her, the plaintiff in this case (Miss Serova) is a member of society who is attempting to take collective action (by filing a class action lawsuit) to address an issue of public concern (that a corporation may be defrauding consumers).

Moreover, FAC’s mission statement also claims to advocate for a “more open and accountable government” and “the people’s right to know”.

It should be noted that the Californian government is in fact advocating for openness and accountability and for the public’s right to know in this case – on behalf of the plaintiff, against the billion-dollar corporation that has conceded in its legal arguments to have ripped her off.

For the purposes of this proceeding, defendants Sony and the Estate have stipulated that the songs in question are indeed fake. And while their exact arguments aren’t due to be filed with the court until March 10, 2021, in the context of the defendants’ concessions, FAC could, in theory, be perceived to be advocating in favour of fraudulent representation of forged art, rather than for openness and accountability and the people’s right to know.

In a press release issued on January 29, 2021, the California Attorney General said:

“Products must deliver on their claims. If someone buys an album from a recording artist, they should expect that the songs on the album were made by that artist unless noted otherwise… We must hold companies accountable to stand by their products. Companies have a First Amendment right to communicate, but their claims must be informed and accurate.”

More to come when FAC files their amicus brief.

A podcast series called Faking Michael is in the works, detailing a decade-long investigation of this case. You can subscribe to Faking Michael on Apple PodcastsSpotify and YouTube.


Damien Shields is the author of the book Michael Jackson: Songs & Stories From The Vault examining the King of Pop’s creative process, and the producer of the podcast The Genesis of Thriller which takes you inside the recording studio as Jackson and his team create the biggest selling album in music history.
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