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Jury Begins Deliberations in Quincy Jones-Michael Jackson Estate Royalties Dispute

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Jones says he's owed $30 million, while Jackson's estate puts it closer to $400,000.
Talk of "word games" dominated closing arguments in the royalties trial between Quincy Jones and a company owned by Michael Jackson's estate — and a jury of 10 women and two men will soon have to define terms like "record" and "videoshow" to determine how much money, if any, the producer is owed.

Jones sued MJJ Productions in 2013, claiming that after the King of Pop's death Jones was shorted tens of millions in royalties and wrongfully denied the opportunity to remix works he created with the artist. The estate says some run of the mill accounting errors did cause Jones to be shorted, but he's owed about $392,000 — not the $30 million he's asking for.

Closing arguments ended just before lunch Monday in a crowded downtown courtroom. So crowded, in fact, the legal teams used "seat fillers" to make sure all of their people had a seat — leaving several members of the press hunkered near the entrance, pressed up against a wall to avoid the judge's line of sight. The courtroom assistant warned that if the judge saw them peeking around the corner, he'd kick them out.

Jones attorney Scott Cole led off closings by telling the jury the case was about two men and "the landmark music they created." He described MJJ's defense as nothing more than "word games and loopholes" and emphasized that this is the first time in a seven-decade career that Jones has ever filed a lawsuit.

Because the dispute centers on two contracts, the 1978 and 1985 producer agreements between Jones and Jackson, the precise definitions of words are key. Under the deals, Jones is entitled to a share of record royalties from Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad. The parties dispute whether Jones should share in the profits from Jackson's 1991 joint venture with Sony, and whether he should share in net profits from movies instead of licensing fees from the songs used in them.

Jones argues that the This is It documentary counts as a "videoshow" under his contract, and he's entitled to a share of net receipts. Meanwhile, MJJ says the term is used for things like music videos and isn't relevant here.

The jury will also have to decide what it means to "remix" a song. Jones says his contract gives him right of first refusal to remix any of the works he produced for Jackson, while MJJ says that right was limited to remixes ordered by Sony (then Epic) at the time the albums were being produced.

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