*Michael Jackson’s estate and his mother Katherine are locked in a battle over the non-profit Heal the World Foundation, which claims it’s the successor to the King of Pop’s defunct charity inspired by the song.
At stake in the skirmish, according to the AP, are trademarks worth millions of dollars and a piece of Jackson’s legacy.
The dispute, which is playing out in a federal court in Los Angeles, has raised questions about which causes the singer would want to focus on if he hadn’t abandoned his charity to fight off allegations of child sexual abuse.
Katherine left little doubt about where her sentiments lie in a recent court filing: “It is not my desire, nor would it be the desire of my son Michael, to continue this lawsuit against Heal the World Foundation.”
Last year, Jackson’s mother and father joined Heal the World’s board of directors and elected to have their three children added to a youth board. Jackson’s mother and his children were prominently featured on a recent “Good Morning America” story that also included footage of Heal the World giving a $10,000 donation to a shelter in Los Angeles.
It was a high-profile plug for an entity that according to tax filings reviewed by The Associated Press has done little fundraising or charitable giving, but has fought to stake its claim to several Jackson-related trademarks and likeness rights that the singer’s estate maintains it should own.
The foundation’s director, Melissa Johnson, claims the pop singer handed her control of Heal the World through intermediaries in 2005, when he was defending himself against child molestation accusations. Despite never having personally met the singer, Johnson’s attorneys claim she has the right to manage the charity, use various trademarks and that the permission now comes from the Jackson family itself.
The singer’s estate counters that even if Michael Jackson granted Johnson rights to the charity, which it denies, the estate has revoked the permission and Johnson should be barred from using Jackson’s name, likeness, and the name Heal the World for any future endeavors. The estate owns Jackson’s likeness rights and numerous trademarks and copyrights that have been used to market new products since his June 2009 death.
“People are saying I have been manipulated by Melissa Johnson and that we are exploiting my grandchildren because we joined Heal the World, all while the executors convince people they are only doing what Michael wanted or what is in my best interests by suing everyone who help (sic) us,” states Katherine Jackson’s declaration, which was offered as sworn testimony in the case. “Please do not believe them. It’s not true.”
Complicating Katherine Jackson’s involvement with the foundation is her business relationship with Howard Mann, a businessman who obtained some of Jackson’s recordings years ago. Mann, who is paying to defend Heal the World in court, is also being sued by the estate in a separate lawsuit that accuses him of infringing on estate copyrights.
The singer’s estate, which has paid millions in the nearly two years since the pop singer’s death to support Katherine Jackson and her grandchildren, claims the organization is trying to supplant the trademarks and has no legitimate affiliation with the singer.
The estate won a preliminary injunction in April 2010, barring Heal the World Foundation from using Michael Jackson’s name, likeness and trademarks on its website, but in recent weeks several of the pop singer’s former confidantes and his mother have cast their support with Johnson.
The lawsuit has reignited division between Jackson’s family and the overseers of his estate, namely co-executor John Branca. Branca was Jackson’s longtime attorney, but did not work with him for several years until being re-hired shortly before the singer’s death.