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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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Californian Government Joins Fraud Lawsuit Against Sony Music and Jackson Estate

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The California state government has officially joined a class action lawsuit against Michael Jackson’s estate and record company.

In a press release issued yesterday, the state’s Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, accuses Sony of “shirking responsibility” for making “false and misleading claims” about a posthumously released Michael Jackson album, and then declaring ignorance of their misrepresentation.

The Attorney General also filed an amicus brief with the California Supreme Court, urging them to intervene in the case of Serova vs Sony Music Entertainment, et al., for fear that “broad, destabilising consequences for well-established false advertising principles,” could be felt if it did not take action and rectify a problematic Appeals Court decision in the case.

The lawsuit at the centre of the amicus brief was filed almost 7 years ago. The suit alleges that Sony Music and the Jackson Estate misled consumers when they commercially released the Michael album, comprising 10 tracks, in December 2010.

The plaintiff in the case, Vera Serova, insists that three of the 10 tracks on Michael are part of an elaborate artistic fraud masterminded by co-defendants Eddie Cascio and James Porte, who sold the tracks to Jackson’s Estate for millions of dollars after the superstar’s death. 

Serova alleges that those three tracks, known as the Cascio tracks, are fakes sung by an impostor. And she’s not alone.

Months before the album was released, members of the Jackson family warned Sony and the Estate regarding the Cascio tracks, insisting that they were fakes and should not be released. One of the Estate’s co-executors, John McClain, agreed with the Jackson family.

In response, Sony issued a press release stating that they had “complete confidence in the results of their extensive research” that the vocals were authentic. The company then released the album, including three Cascio tracks, against the family’s wishes.

Sony even went as far as to explicitly inscribe on the album cover that the vocals on all the album’s tracks were “performed by Michael Jackson.”

But despite Sony’s repeated assurances that the vocals were legit, when Jackson’s fans got their hands on the album and heard the Cascio tracks for themselves, a huge controversy ensued. Thousands upon thousands of fans around the world instantly rejected them as fakes.

Ironically, this very controversy – which Sony itself created by releasing the Cascio tracks – is one of the many points the company has since tried to raise as a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Sony says that because thousands of people were questioning the authenticity of the vocals, the company’s claim that Jackson sang them was not commercial in nature, but merely their non-commercial contribution to the ongoing authenticity debate.

But the Attorney General argues that Sony’s logic is absurd. The fact that there were questions over the vocals, the AG says, only increased Sony’s need be sure that the songs were indeed authentic if they intended on claiming they were:

“Questions about the authenticity of songs allegedly recorded by Michael Jackson shortly before his death naturally led to significant interest and debate among fans, members of the media, and the public more generally. That level of interest made it all the more important for Sony to provide accurate information about the songs to consumers.”

The AG added: “It would seriously frustrate the State’s interest in combating false or misleading advertising to immunise a seller from liability merely because its claims bear some relation to a matter of public interest or a public figure.”

Moreover, the Attorney General completely rejects Sony’s claims that their speech wasn’t commercial in nature.

Because the album cover explicitly stated that the songs were “performed by Michael Jackson,” Sony was bound to that statement as being the truth, and could be held liable under consumer protection laws if it were proven otherwise.

“A seller’s description of a product on a label or in an advertisement is a classic form of commercial speech. Thus, assuming Serova’s allegations are true, application of California’s false advertising statutes fully comports with the First Amendment.”

In the press release issued yesterday to alert the media of the California state government’s support of Serova’s lawsuit, Attorney General Becerra 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.”

Sometime in mid-February the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office is due to join the California Attorney General and the nine other consumer protection groups already supporting Serova’s case. No amicus brief has been filed in support of Sony or the Jackson Estate.

A date for the oral hearing of these briefs is yet to be set.

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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