“Thriller” director John Landis is suing still-sorta-iconic pop singer Michael Jackson for breach of contract, saying that he hasn’t been paid for his share of the “Thriller” video for at least the last four years. When the clip was signed in 1983, Landis and Jackson brokered a deal that said the director would get 50% of the net profits from the video and its related documentary, and that he would also receive regular updates on the video’s revenues. Landis’ suit, which accuses “fraudulent, malicious and oppressive conduct” on the part of Jackson and his people, says that Jackson’s been breaching that agreement since at least 2005.
Landis’s attorney, Miles Feldman of Liner Yankelevitz Sunshine & Regenstreif, said it was the closest thing he could imagine to an open and shut case. “I can’t understand what they are doing to John Landis’ company. It is such a straight ahead thing,” Feldman said. “It makes no sense at all to me.”
The contract includes rights to dramatic and musical works, but the extent to which any show is based on the video, as opposed to Jackson’s music, may be open to interpretation — or negotiation.
The case could be the latest in a long string of legal embarrassments for Jackson. In addition to the Landis suit, he is believed to have recently concluded private arbitration with representatives of the Sultan of Brunei over a contract believed to involve Jackson agreeing to perform and offer a percentage of rights to future projects in exchange for payment of several million dollars.
The Landis suit probably does not involve a huge amount of money – the complaint does not assert a dollar figure, but the debt is not believed to be more than about $1 million, even taking into account last year’s successful 25th anniversary re-issue of the Thriller album and the new-found popularity of the video on YouTube.
The complaint, which was filed by Landis last week, hasn’t yet been answered by an attorney, although Los Angeles doctor Tohme Tohme, who has declared himself the singer’s “official and sole spokesperson,” apparently arranged a powwow with some other Jackson advisers to discuss the lawsuit and other pressing matters, like the Jacko jukebox musical that’s apparently made its way past the “vaguely planned” stages.