Michael Jackson's Creditors Turn Mean

Michael Jackson | Beyonce | Paramount Problems | Tom & Katies

Jacko's Creditors Turn Mean

Michael Jackson had better pay close attention to a startling new development in his extended universe.

Fortress Investments, the company that holds him accountable for $325 million in loans, is foreclosing on a bunch of songwriters.

Last week, Fortress posted a three-quarter page notice in Billboard announcing its intentions to sell the assets of The Songwriters Collective on Oct. 17, 2006.

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The firm claims they postponed the sale several times in 2006, but are now prepared to sell everything belonging to the Collective including “all rights to a portfolio of musical compositions.”

The Songwriters Collective was put together ostensibly to help a group of Nashville songwriters make a living from their copyrights.

In 1999, Fortress and UCC Capital — the latter then owned by current Martha Stewart CEO Charles Koppleman — loaned them $29 million against future royalties.

But some of the songwriters sued to get out of the Collective when they realized they could lose the rights to their songs forever. And that’s apparently what’s happened now. It’s possible that at the Oct. 17 auction, writers will have to buy back their own songs from Fortress.

Fortress bought $270 million worth of loans incurred by Michael Jackson from Bank of America in 2005 against his interest in Sony/ATV Music Publishing — aka The Beatles catalog — and MiJac Publishing, which controls Jackson’s own hits and those of many other stars.

But this past June, after tense negotiations with Sony and Jackson, Fortress refused to sell the loans or loosen its grasp on a potential windfall.

In the end, the outfit — run by Peter Briger — refinanced Jackson’s situation, giving him a little cash and increasing his indebtedness to them.

At this rate, Jackson’s only option to pay off Fortress would be to conclude an agreement with Sony to sell them half his 50 percent share in Sony/ATV, leaving him with a 25 percent interest in the publishing company.

But Jackson remains steadfastly mired in debt, racking up interest fees and sinking further into red ink. This latest development with Fortress should show him, however, that the people he’s involved with aren’t particularly interested in artists. They simply want the money generated by artists.

Beyonce's 'B'Day': Forced on Label?

I told you two weeks ago that Beyonce’s new album, "B'Day," was a shrill dud. Unless you’re into that annoying siren on "Ring the Alarm," this is one CD better off forgotten.

So how did it happen? Someone at a record label called the “A&R” person usually works with an artist selecting songs and producers.

At Sony Music, there are lots of A&R men and women who would have been happy to help Beyonce, just as they did on her first album.

However, sources at the label tell me that no one at Sony was involved with "B'Day" at all.

“This record was turned in,” says an insider. “It was done completely by Jay-Z and his team. They came in, played it for us, and said 'Here.’ There was no discussion.”

This is odd, too, considering that Jay-Z consistently refuses even to discuss Beyonce or acknowledge their association.

When I mentioned to him recently that she was good in "Dreamgirls," he looked right through me and changed the subject. Nevertheless, her album launch party was held on Thursday night at Jay-Z’s 40/40 club.

The result of Jay-Z’s involvement, Sony execs fear, is no obvious single after "Déjà Vu," the lead track, expires.

“There is no 'Crazy in Love,'” says a Sony exec, echoing our observation from the London listening party.

Unlike Justin Timberlake ’s solidly commercial if dully constructed "FutureSex/LoveSounds" album, "B'Day" is one headache-inducing trip down hip-hop lane.

On top of thudding programmed drums, the otherwise gifted singer sings for some reason about an octave above her range. There is no advisory for dogs.

Paramount Problems: Freston Frosted

You may have read that early yesterday morning, Viacom chief Sumner Redstone unceremoniously fired top exec Tom Freston after 20 years with the company.

Freston helped invent MTV and had a stellar career with Viacom until nine months ago, when he got pushed into a corporate tug of war with CBS chief Les Moonves. Now he’s out on his keester. Life in the center ring can be very unfair.

Redstone insists Freston’s ouster has nothing to do with Tom Cruise and all that craziness from two weeks ago. But the fact is, "Mission: Impossible 3" lost a lot of money and put Paramount into a tailspin. It wasn’t Freston’s fault per se, but that’s where Redstone decided to begin his war of retribution.

It didn’t help that MTV’s annual Video Music Awards was also a disaster last week, getting low ratings and lots of criticism. They were a total embarrassment. And who are you going to fire? MTV’s Christina Norman. She’s famous for not returning phone calls.

The big question now is: How long before Paramount’s Brad Grey gets the boot? Grey, picked by Freston to run the studio, is in a lot of legal situations that are potentially embarrassing for the company. They all stem from the Anthony Pellicano investigation and date back to his lawsuit with “Scary Movie” producer Vincent "Bo" Zenga .

If Grey is forced to testify in a new suit brought by Zenga, he may have to invoke Fifth Amendment rights so that he doesn’t incriminate himself in the government’s case against Pellicano. I’m told that Grey has been offered a way out from Paramount but so far has declined.

All of this comes at an odd time for Paramount. Its film version of the musical "Dreamgirls," directed by Bill Condon , is an Oscar favorite, and they have plenty of other good titles coming that should put them back on the map.

Since its acquisition of Dreamworks, Paramount has pulled itself together in surprising ways. It’s just too bad that potential success seems to have manifested corporate infighting that is not over yet.

Tom, Katie and ... Katie

Last night’s premiere performance of Katie Couric on "The CBS Evening News" might have been uneventful if it hadn’t been for another Katie … Katie Holmes .

I can’t imagine why, but Couric decided to include the news that Vanity Fair was featuring Holmes, Tom Cruise and baby Suri on its October cover.

Maybe the Cruise baby thing was considered a “get” by her producers, but if Couric wants be taken seriously, she’s got to leave that kind of stuff to corporate cousin “Entertainment Tonight.”

Suddenly we’re nervous that Mary Hart will turn up on Couric’s “Free Speech” segment complaining about Hollywood publicists …

And what of Cruise? Over the weekend he made up with Brooke Shields . The timing was purposeful, right in line with this “normal” family stuff in Vanity Fair. His publicist, by the way, confirmed the Shields truce but added that the FDA called antidepressants “unhealthy.”

That, of course, is a lie. Antidepressants do carry “black box warnings,” but if the FDA really thought they were “unhealthy,” they’d be gone.

Cruise and his fellow Scientologists rail against anti-depressants as well as drugs like Ritalin for the treatment of ADHD in children and teens. The latter set of drugs, by the way, do not carry black-box warnings, despite complaints — found on the FDA Web site — from Scientologists …

Jessica Simpson sold 99,000 copies of her "A Public Affair" album last week. It was more than predicted yesterday, but still a very mediocre showing. Simpson will have to sell at least that many this week to get any momentum going, but at this point it looks like an uphill battle.

Paris Hilton can explain this to her. Her idiotic debut album dropped 64 percent in its second week, falling from No. 6 to No. 30 and selling just 27,500 copies …