An appeals court has reportedly removed Sony Music Entertainment and Michael Jackson's estate from a fan's lawsuit on Tuesday (Aug. 28) that alleges both parties sold and promoted a posthumous album that contained singles with fake vocals, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Vera Serova reportedly filed a class action lawsuit, claiming the late icon was misrepresented on three tracks from the album, which is punishable under California's Unfair Competition Law and the Consumers Legal Remedies Act. The judge concluded that statements on the album cover and a promotional video did not fall under "commercial speech," but "free speech."
"We conclude that the challenged representation — that Michael Jackson was the lead singer on the three Disputed Tracks — did not simply promote sale of the album, but also stated a position on a disputed issue of public interest," California Appellate Justice Elwood Lui wrote in a statement addressing the ruling.
He added: "[T]he identity of the artist on the three Disputed Tracks was a controversial issue of interest to Michael Jackson fans and others who care about his musical legacy. The identity of the lead singer was also integral to the artistic significance of the songs themselves. Under these circumstances, Appellants' statements about the identity of the artist were not simply commercial speech but were subject to full First Amendment protection. They are therefore outside the scope of an actionable unfair competition or consumer protection claim in the case."
Knowledge of who and when the singles were recorded was also a significant part of the lawsuit. Serova alleged Sony was aware that an impersonator recorded the tracks.The decision notes that Jackson's estate and Sony did not record the songs themselves, so they could only provide an educated guess.
"The absence of the element of personal knowledge is highly significant here," Lui continued. "Because Appellants lacked actual knowledge of the identity of the lead singer on the Disputed Tracks, they could only draw a conclusion about that issue from their own research and the available evidence. Under these circumstances, Appellant’s representations about the identity of the singer amounted to a statement of opinion rather than fact. The lack of personal knowledge here also means that Appellants’ challenged statements do not fit the definition of speech that is 'less likely to be chilled by proper regulation.'"
The appeal comes shortly after rumors began swirling that Sony Music had admitted to fabricating songs on the album. The music company was forced to release a statement, denying that they contended to such allegations.
In the end, it looks like fans will never know if the songs were fake.