Noval Williams Films and MJ Estate are having a dispute about footage of two MJ photo shoots in 2007. Noval Williams Films created a documentary that includes the previously unseen behind the scenes footage of the photo shoots, MJ photographs and interviews with people who were involved in the photo shoots. Before the release of the documentary MJ Estate raised concerns about copyrights of the photographs and footage used in the video and MJ Estate may have some rights to them. After seeing the documentary MJ Estate claimed co-ownership of some photographs. MJ Estate also stated they are unaware of any MJ signed release agreement that would allow the footage commercially released without MJ Estate’s consent. Noval Williams Films went to court asking for declaratory relief that they haven’t infringed any copyrights and MJ Estate has no valid claims.
MJ Estate have filed two motions; a motion to dismiss the case or in alternative move it to California and motion to disqualify Noval Williams Films attorney Markovich. Before I go into the details of these two motions, I’ll list the new information/ what we learned from the recent documents:
- The footage comes from Hasaun Muhammad and his company Ambassadors Media.
- The footage consists of 5 full mini DV master tapes. 3 of them are from Ebony photo shoot and 2 of them are from Vogue photo shoot. 2 of them are dated September 15 and the others are dated September 24, 2007.
- Small portion of this footage was released on November, 2007.
- According to his affidavit Craig Williams was the person who researched, reviewed and relied upon the chain of title for the footage.
- Noval Williams Films filed an amended complaint showing they licensed some photographs. MJ Estate argues although Noval Williams Films licensed certain photographs, not all of the photographs were licensed. As an example Estate states the documentary included still photos from “Thriller” which is owned by MJ Estate.
- Estate also raises concerns about the claims about the footage. Estate questions why Michael would “authorize” Hasaun Muhammed to videotape him including in his private dressing room and furthermore allow Hasaun Muhammed to exploit and profit from this footage without MJ’s consent and involvement and without MJ receiving any rights or benefits.
- Estate also states that they find it telling that Hasaun Muhammed waited until after MJ’s death to exploit and profit from this footage.
- Estate describes Hasaun Muhammed’s interaction with MJ Estate as a failed “attempt to extract large amount of money from Estate”. [Hasaun Muhammad asked MJ Estate for $250,000 to buy it, additional $250,000 for limited commercial usage (less than 10 minutes) and additional $750,000 to have full rights (so a total of $1.25 Million)]
- Estate questions if there was any business relationship between MJ and Hasaun Muhammed, if Hasaun Muhammed worked for MJ (work for hire), if there was any document or release signed by MJ about the footage.
Motion to disqualify Noval Williams Films lawyer Markovich
MJ Estate is asking to disqualify Noval Williams Films lawyer Markovich because he’s a producer of the film as well as manager of Noval Williams Films. Markovich also signed licensing agreement and paid the licensing fees ($1,500) for the photographs used in the documentary. Estate argues given his involvement and knowledge Markovich would be a called as a witness. Another point Estate makes given Markovich’s involvement and his personal stake in the release of documentary he would be biased and prejudicial. Therefore Estate asked to disqualify Markovich.
Noval Williams films argues Markovich signed the licensing contract under the orders of them and his signature was just a formality. Markovich had no involvement in any negotiation, hasn’t met MJ, and hasn’t met Hasaun Muhammed. Noval Williams Films say they promptly reimbursed Markovich for the photograph licensing fees. Noval Williams Films state they will not call Markovich as a witness. They state Craig Williams is the person who negotiated all the agreements and is the manager, director and producer. Finally Noval Williams Films state that they are a small production firm with almost no money and they cannot afford to pay a lawyer and if Markovich is disqualified they would suffer hardship.
In their response Estate argues Markovich’s short term loan of $1,500 for licensed photographs show that he’s also a creditor for Noval Williams Films in addition to being a manager, producer, signatory and attorney. Estate states they plan to depose and call Markovich as a witness. Estate also states Noval Williams Films financial situation is an insufficient factor to avoid disqualification.
Motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction or in alternative transfer venue to California
Noval Williams Film filed the case in New York. MJ Estate argues New York is not the correct location for this lawsuit. Estate argues California is the correct venue because MJ Estate is being probated in California, Executors reside in California, Estate doesn’t have employees or offices in New York and do not regularly conduct business in New York. Estate states although Noval Williams Films is a New York limited liability company, it is owned by two California LLCs. Estate also states that both Craig Williams (director, producer of the film) and Markovich (producer and lawyer) both reside in California. So overall MJ Estate asks the New York court to dismiss the case or in alternative transfer it to California.
Noval Williams films argue that it’s a New York firm, the photo shoots happened in New York in 2007, Karen Langford attended meetings in New York, This is it movie aired in New York, Bad 25 was shown in New York and produced by a New York firm, headquarters of Sony/ATV is at New York and potential witnesses reside in New York.
Estate replies by saying This is it and Bad 25 were nationally released movies and they only have a passive ownership interest in Sony/ATV. Estate argues every party to the case – Executors of MJ Estate, Craig Williams, Markovich, LLCs that own Noval Williams Films- and 7 possible witnesses are California residents. Estate argues although Noval Williams Films are on paper a New York firm, its office is a remote cabin in the woods with an unrelated party residing in it and per Craig Williams’s affidavit Noval Williams Films almost have no money. Therefore Estate raises the question if Noval Williams Films is just a shell company for Craig Williams.
(Note: If the case gets dismissed in New York, it can be refilled in California.)
All of the briefs, oppositions and replies are filed in regards to these two motions. Court should set an oral hearing date and later rule on these motions.
I know how MJ fans were excited about this footage and asking about developments or release date for this footage. Unless magically the parties come to a friendly resolution to this lawsuit, I wouldn’t expect to see this footage/documentary any time soon.