The Michael Jackson estate is embroiled in a lawsuit with a Las Vegas tribute act called MJ Live, which claims that the King of Pop’s attorneys have unfairly begun threatening to sue over a show that’s been performed nightly on the Strip for more than a decade.
In a complaint filed Wednesday in Nevada federal court, the organizers of MJ Live asked a judge to rule that they could continue to stage their concerts featuring a Jackson impersonator, which are held six nights per week at the Tropicana in addition to other venues around the country.
Despite the fact that the show has allegedly been performed more than 3,600 times since 2012, MJ Live says the Jackson estate has only recently begun threatening to sue – including sending cease-and-desist letters to other venues demanding that they cancel upcoming tour dates.
A rep for the Jackson estate did not immediately return a request for comment.
Wednesday’s lawsuit is primarily what’s known as a “declaratory judgment action” – a type of case aimed at proving that you’ve done nothing wrong. In their complaint, MJ Live’s lawyers argue that the group has not infringed any trademarks held by the estate, nor has it violated his likeness rights by impersonating him.
Notably, Nevada’s state likeness laws have an unusual carveout the allows for the legal use of a celebrity’s likeness by “impersonators in live performances” – likely a nod to the long-standing and beloved tradition of Elvis Presley look-alikes in Las Vegas. Citing that statute, as well as the First Amendment’s protections for free speech, MJ Live says it has a clear legal right “to impersonate Michael Jackson” in its shows.
But the group also goes further, boldly arguing that it’s actually the Jackson estate that’s infringing intellectual property. By using the “MJ Live” name for more than a decade, MJ Live’s lawyers say the group has developed its own trademark rights to that particular name – and that the estate’s recent use of “MJ The Musical” on a Broadway show is infringing of those rights.
“Over the past eleven and one-half years … plaintiff has spent millions of dollars advertising and promoting its MJ Live show,” MJ Live’s lawyers write. “Plaintiff estimates that over 2,500,000 audience members, clapping and singing in their seats, jumping to their feet, and dancing in the aisles, have experienced the joy, excitement, and thrill of MJ Live.”
The complaint also argues that the estate’s decision to send cease-and-desist letters to block future tour dates represents “intentional and wrongful interference” in MJ Live’s business. MJ Live says the letters, allegedly sent to six different venues in total, in California, Florida, Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin, were “intended to harm Plaintiff.”
This isn’t the first time the estate of a famed artist has tried to crack down on Vegas impersonators. Back in 2022, Authentic Brands Group – the company that owns the rights to Elvis’ likeness – sent letters to a number of Las Vegas chapels where Presley impersonators officiate weddings, demanding that they obtain licenses. At the time, ABG said it was not seeking to shut down the impersonators, but partner with them to “safeguard his legacy.”
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