Michael Jackson estate wins appeal in lawsuit over HBO's documentary
Michael Jackson's estate has won a case against HBO over its documentary Leaving Neverland for violating a 27-year-old non-disparagement clause. The 2019 documentary had accused Jackson of sexually abusing Wade Robson starting in 1990 and James Safechuck starting in 1988 at Neverland Ranch and elsewhere. The latest verdict upholds the validity of the clause that was mutually agreed upon by both parties in 1992.
Robson and Safechuck were children when the alleged abuse reportedly happened. The documentary shows the two describing the ways in which they were abused, in detail. However, this violates the contract from a 1992 concert film of Jackson's Dangerous tour as it investigates into the sexual abuse allegations against the King of Pop, thus tarnishing his image, the clause's main deal.
The Jackson estate thereafter sued HBO for $100mn in February 2019 in a district court, which means that the matter should go to an arbitration court if the channel fails to defend itself. US District Judge George H. Wu granted the estate to take the matter up for arbitration, but HBO appealed against it with California's anti-SLAPP statute, terming the estate's litigation "frivolous".
HBO argued that the 1992 clause had expired after both sides fulfilled their obligations, mentioning that the channel has never wanted Jackson and his heir to have a say on HBO's opinion broadcast about the star in future. However, Circuit Judges Richard Paez and Lawrence VanDyke and District Judge Karin Immergut at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal rejected the claim on Monday.
HBO had also maintained that the 1992 contract attempts to silence victims of sexual abuse by Jackson, but the expiry of the clause is now up for the arbitrator to decide. "An arbitration clause can still bind the parties, even if the parties fully performed the contract years ago...HBO does not dispute the existence of a valid agreement," the court stated.