A Michael Jackson fan has filed a Class Action lawsuit in Los Angeles over the authenticity of three controversial songs included on the posthumously-released Michael album.
The plaintiff, Vera Serova, alleges that Jackson’s longtime friend Eddie Cascio, his collaborative partner James Porte, and Cascio’s music production company Angelikson Productions LLC committed fraud by creating and selling fake songs, via The Estate of Michael Jackson and Sony Music Entertainment, to consumers on the Michael album – released on December 14, 2010 in the United States.
The songs in question – “Breaking News,” “Keep Your Head Up,” and “Monster” – have become known as the ‘Cascio tracks’. Cascio and Porte say that Michael Jackson recorded the songs in Cascio’s New Jersey basement between August and November 2007. Serova, many of her fellow fans, and the entire Jackson family say Michael did no such thing.
I will personally be following this case very closely. For the last three-and-a-half years I’ve been working on investigating this very issue with a dedicated team of researchers. The findings of our investigation will ultimately be published as a podcast series that will cover Jackson’s final years in the recording studio while detailing the events surrounding the conception, production and release of the Michael album following his passing, and the controversy that erupted as a result of the inclusion of the Cascio tracks.
Serova’s filing also claims that Sony Music and The Estate have themselves mislead consumers by falsely representing these songs as Michael Jackson recordings. The claim cites that the Michael album’s promotional campaign and wording on the back of the CD cover expressly and implicitly represents all lead vocals on the album as being performed by Michael Jackson.
Find the official court documents here.
The filing states that Serova has engaged the services of a forensic musicologist who analysed the Cascio tracks and found it is unlikely that the vocals were performed by Michael Jackson. The filing also states that a second, independent forensic musicologist reviewed the methodologies and findings of the first musicologist and agreed with the deduction that it is likely that Michael Jackson does not perform lead vocals on the Cascio tracks.
Back in 2010, when the controversy first erupted, Estate attorney Howard Weitzman issued a statement to fans and the media outlining the lengths he had gone to in order to confirm the authenticity of the Cascio tracks:
“Six of Michael’s former producers and engineers who had worked with Michael over the past 30 years – Bruce Swedien, Matt Forger, Stewart Brawley, Michael Prince, Dr. Freeze and Teddy Riley – were all invited to a listening session to hear the raw vocals of the Cascio tracks in question,” Weitzman’s statement reads. “All of these persons listened to the a cappella versions of the vocals on the Cascio tracks being considered for inclusion on the album, so they could give an opinion as to whether or not the lead vocals were sung by Michael. They all confirmed that the vocal was definitely Michael.”
However, former Jackson producer, Cory Rooney, and Jackson’s nephew, Taryll Jackson, who were at that very listening session, vigorously contest the accuracy of Weitzman’s statement.
“I have read the statement from the MJ estate and I have to say that it’s just more bullshit!” said Cory Rooney on his Facebook profile after Weitzman’s statement went public. “I was in that room, and the majority of the people mentioned did NOT agree that it was MJ! Some felt it sounded like him but all agree that there was nothing there that was consistent with any MJ habits like finger snaps, headphone bleeding, foot stomping or just simple things like his voice asking for another take. Both Dr. Freeze and Teddy Riley sat with Taryll Jackson and myself and stated that they felt what we felt.”
“There are many inaccuracies and omissions in that statement,” added Taryll. “For one, I was also in that meeting and that was not the outcome. You will hear my story because this is way too important for my Uncle’s legacy. The truth will prevail.”
Serova cites these statements in her filing.
Teddy Riley personally took to Twitter last year to apologise to fans over his involvement with the posthumous production Cascio tracks (Riley remixed “Breaking News” and “Monster”) while deflecting the blame towards Eddie Cascio.
Riley was asked the following by a fan via Twitter: “Do you feel betrayed by Eddie Cascio and his team for the situation you ended up in with their fake MJ songs? It seem[s] to me like you got all the heat for a fraud they created, which is [not] fair on you…”
He responded: “It isn’t (fair), but it’s all good. I’ll be able to talk soon,” later adding: “[Now] isn’t the time. I’m muted, but trust me MJ always gets his just due. He is my bestfriend, bigbro and confidant. Please believe! The truth will set us all free… I was set up and it will all come out… That’s all I can say right now.”
It should also be noted that Stuart Brawley, who is cited in Weitzman’s statement as one of the engineers and producers who confirmed the authenticity of the vocal on the Cascio tracks, was in fact working with Eddie Cascio and James Porte on these songs as part of the Angelikson Productions team!
“Stuart co-produced 3 of the tracks [featured on the ‘Michael’ album] as part of the Angelikson production team, along with Eddie Cascio and James Porte,” says an article on Brawley’s own The Backyard Studios website. “In addition, Stuart played keyboards, engineered, programmed on all the songs, and did the string arrangement for ‘Keep Your Head Up.'”
“I was focused on making Michael sound like Michael,” Brawley told Rolling Stone of his contribution to the tracks.
Back to Weitzman’s statement. He also cited the engagement of two forensic musicologists – one by the Estate and one by Sony Music – both of whom reported that the vocals on the Cascio tracks were Michael Jackson’s. See below:
“The Estate then retained one of the best-known forensic musicologists in the nation to listen to the vocals without any instrumental accompaniment (“a cappella”), and to compare them with a cappella vocals from previous Michael songs. This expert performed waveform analysis, an objective scientific test used to determine audio authenticity, on the Cascio tracks, as well as previously released tracks with Michael’s voice, and reported that ALL of the lead vocals analyzed (which included Cascio tracks) were the voice of Michael Jackson.
Sony Music conducted their own investigation by hiring yet a second well-respected forensic musicologist who also compared the a cappella lead vocals from Cascio tracks against previously released vocals of Michael’s, and found that Michael’s voice was the on all sets of the raw vocals.”
Despite claiming that the Estate’s forensic musicologist is one of the “best-known” in the nation, Weitzman does not name him/her, and does not provide excerpts from or copies of the supposed findings. Sony’s “well-respected” expert was also not named.
Ms. Serova’s court filing, however, does name one her primary forensic musicologist – Dr. George Papcun, PhD.
Dr. Papcun is a seasoned expert in the world of sound. His expertise, according to his website, includes analysis of recordings, enhancing the intelligibility of recordings, determining whether recordings have been altered, speaker identification, memory for voices, voice lineups, using voice to determine speaker veracity and voice morphing.
He has performed audio analysis for countless high-profile clients and cases including the CIA, the Secret Service, the NSA, the Trayvon Martin case, Rodney King case, O.J. Simpson case, and on a Paula Abdul recording.
If this case goes to trial we could see the likes of James Porte – who co-wrote the Cascio tracks and is credited as singing background vocals on them, yet has never once commented on his supposed work with the King of Pop – take the stand for questioning. We could see Jason Cupeta (a.k.a. Jason Malachi) – the person many believe actually sings on the Cascio tracks – called to testify; or perhaps even Cupeta’s longtime producer and vocal engineer Tony Kurtis, who has publicly stated that the singer on the Cascio tracks is, in his view, without a doubt Jason. Members of the Jackson family will almost certainly be called for questioning, as will those cited in Weitzman’s statement.
Stay tuned for further updates on the Serova vs Sony Music, Jackson Estate, Cascio, Porte et al case. I will provide more information as the case progresses.
You can also listen to the trailer for my upcoming podcast series, called Faking Michael, about these songs and this case. A release date for the podcast has not yet been set, but you can subscribe to have episodes delivered when they become available.
Supreme Court Judge Grills Sony Lawyer Over ‘Contradictory’ Arguments in Alleged Michael Jackson Fraud
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).
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 Podcasts, Spotify or YouTube to be notified when episodes are released.
Court Date Set in Supreme Court Battle Over Legal Right to Sell Alleged Michael Jackson Forgeries
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 Podcasts, Spotify or YouTube to be notified when episodes are released.
First Amendment Coalition to Support Sony and the Jackson Estate in Fake Songs Lawsuit
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:
More to come when FAC files their amicus brief.
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