It's over. And I mean, officially. Michael Jackson is leaving Sony Music.
At an event in London over the weekend, Jackson told his British fan club that he was done with Sony. All he had left to fulfill his contract, he said, was a greatest hits album with three new tracks. The new tracks were done, he said, and that was it. He bragged that he was leaving with his half of the Beatles catalog.
My inside sources at Sony told me yesterday that essentially what Michael told his fans was true. With the failed sales of Invincible (2 million copies), Sony's refusal to put out Jackson's charity single "What More Can I Give?" and Jackson's recent bonding with Al Sharpton and Johnnie Cochran in an effort to embarrass Sony, the party is over. Jackson is now free to shop for a new label.
But don't be fooled by Jackson's declarations about the Beatles catalog. Even though he retains a 50 percent interest in Sony/ATV Music Publishing, he has, as my source knowledgeable about the business side of things at Sony says: "A lot of debt with us here at Sony. We have no interest in foreclosing on it as long as Michael fulfills the terms of his agreement with us. He's paying off the interest as far as I know, and that's what's going to happen."
In other words: Jackson will be in hock to Sony for the rest of his life. I think I've told readers of this column many times that Sony would not foreclose but instead let Jackson have a graceful exit from the company. To foreclose on the catalog would have been a public relations nightmare for Sony.
But this solution also has its drawbacks for Michael, who called Sony's Tommy Mottola "the devil" during his well-chosen remarks over the weekend. He remains highly leveraged, borrowing money against the Beatles and his own song catalog as well as against Neverland. As I reported here exclusively a couple of months ago, Jackson had to borrow money from a bank last year by using a $2 million watch as collateral — so he could pay for the watch.
As Jackson exits Sony, he also leaves behind his catalog including the hit albums Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad, and Dangerous — not to mention the less successful HIStory, Blood on the Dance Floor and Invincible. The earlier albums were all remastered for CD and re-released by Sony last year at an astounding cost — a cost attributed to Jackson's debt and probably totaling over $50 million. This means that wherever Michael goes label-wise, he has nothing but his talent to offer prospective investors.
Jackson — the man who sold more albums than anyone — leaves Sony after 20 years with his hat and his glove and not much else. How did this happen? Jackson has been represented over the last two decades by all the Hollywood so-called experts: attorneys John Branca and Gary Stiffelman; by managers including his best friends John McClain and David Gest; by Trudy Green, Sandy Gallin, Louis Levin, Jeff Kwatinetz; by that banker Jane Heller, whom this column interviewed and who told me, "I've kept Michael alive all these years."
Next up for Michael is an appearance in Men in Black 2. More about that in the days to come.
The saga of Mariah Carey's song "Hero" moves to federal court tomorrow. As I told you yesterday, former limo driver Christopher Selletti has been claiming for more than a decade that he wrote the poem that became this hit song. He's sued Mariah in the past only to have his case dismissed. But his attorney believes that a great deal of evidence was suppressed and that lies and evasions led to the dismissal.
Does Chris Selletti deserve his day in court? After six years of reporting this story, I say yes. It's time for all the evidence and testimony to be played out in front of a jury. Tomorrow's court date is interesting because a new law firm is involved: Debevoise and Plimpton.
Because Selletti has sued Carey's lawyers at Parcher and Hayes, they had to retain D&P. The lead lawyer on this case for D&P seems to be Mary Jo White, former U.S. attorney in the southern district, or Manhattan. All eyes will be on this situation since Jonathan Liebman, a defendant named by Carey, also used to toil in the U.S. attorney's office. And Judge Denny Chin got his start in the same office prior to White and Liebman. This should be interesting!