Michael Jackson's estate on Thursday sued a businessman who has teamed up with the singer's mother to market memorabilia related to the late king of pop on the Web site jacksonsecretvault.com.
The site, the lawsuit alleged, does absolutely everything in its power to suggest to its visitors that it is the hub for all things Michael Jackson, and that it is sanctioned and supported by the estate, when in fact it is neither.
Visitors to the site can buy an official $39.99 coffee table book containing hundreds of photos from the Jackson family archive and apparently authorized by Katherine Jackson. The 80-year-old matriarch of the showbusiness family is featured prominently in promotional photos.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court, accuses Howard Mann and related parties of copyright infringement and misappropriation of likeness, among other charges. It seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as the defendants' profits.
People who trade off Michael's personality, copyrights, and trademarks should not be allowed to exploit the legacy of one of the world's most recognized talents for their own benefit, estate attorney Howard Weitzman said in a statement.
Protecting and preserving Michael's assets are a core responsibility of the Estate and we will do everything the law permits to enforce those rights.
Mann could not immediately be reached for comment. But he told TMZ.com last November, after the estate had fired off a cease-and-desist letter, that he was not remotely worried about it. He said he was helping Katherine Jackson make money while the estate focused on paying off her son's debts.
Katherine Jackson, notably, is not named in the lawsuit. A spokesman for the estate declined to comment. She is also a beneficiary of Jackson's estate and is the guardian of his children.
(Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Jill Serjeant)