Image rights and trademark rights

The Jackson estate is not happy with MJ Live and has summoned several venues in the US where the show will be seen in 2024 to stop the performances from taking place. According to the heirs, MJ Live not only infringes on the late pop star’s image rights, but also violates trademark rights to the letters MJ. The estate itself applied for a US trademark registration MJ in 2019.

Michael Jackson MJ Live

MJ The Musical

Background to the heirs’ action appears to be MJ the Musical, a Broadway production of which Jackson’s estate is co-producer. According to the heirs, the public will confuse the logo of MJ Live with that of the MJ The Musical. Moreover, the heirs argue that the show evokes associations with the Jackson estate by using a look-alike of the pop star in its advertisements.

Michael Jackson MJ The Musical

Ball bounced back

MJL 12, however, is not going to be backed into a corner and is bouncing the ball back: the company has now filed its own lawsuit in Nevada court, asking the court to determine that the MJ Live show does nót infringe on the Estate’s rights.

MJ Live MJ The Musical

Older usage

And MJL 12 goes into it firmly: our Michael Jackson show falls under freedom of expression, the company says. And as for those trademark rights: may we point out that in the US, trademark rights also arise through use! We have been using the designation MJ Live since 2012. So that logo of that musical, which has only been used since 2019, actually infringes our trademark rights. Moreover, the estate gave false information to the US Trademark Office by stating that they have been using the MJ trademark since 2010.

Bit late

This is going to be another interesting battle. I do wonder why the heirs are only taking action now, nota bene more than 10 years after the first MJ Live performance in Vegas. By now there have been more than 3,600 shows across America. And the accusation that the heirs gave false information about the first use of the 2010 brand doesn’t feel very good either.

Tina Turner

Tina Turner

In 2022, Germany’s highest court ruled in a case brought by Tina Turner, that the use of a look-alike in an advertisement for a Tina Turner tribute show falls under the artistic freedom of the producer and cannot be banned. It could only be different if the impression was falsely given that the real Tina Turner was supporting the show. And that was not the case. Now let’s see how they view such a thing in the US.

Bas Kist

Bas Kist is mede-oprichter van Merkenbureau Chiever. Hij schrijft regelmatig artikelen over merken- en auteursrecht in de Volkskrant en Adformatie. Daarnaast is hij docent bij de European Institute for Brand management EURIB.