Michael Jackson addressed his rumored dispute with Sony Music for the first time Wednesday when he aligned himself with a new artist-rights initiative and released a statement condemning the music industry and his label.
At a New York press conference Jackson was named the first member of a coalition formed by the Rev. Al Sharpton and attorney Johnnie Cochran to investigate whether record companies are financially exploiting artists.
“Record companies have to start treating their artists with respect, honor, and financial justice,” Jackson said in a statement. “Therefore, I am proud to join this coalition which represents all artists.”
The reclusive millionaire also used his brief statement to address recent comments from unnamed Sony executives who said he owes the label $200 million for studio time and promotion.
“For Sony to make a false claim that I owe them $200 million is outrageous and offensive,” Jackson said.
Sony responded with its own statement: “We have never issued any statement, verbally or in writing, claiming that Michael Jackson owes us $200 million. As a result, we are baffled by the comments issued today by his press representatives.”
Jackson’s feud with Sony has been the focus of several Web sites set up by fans who allege that early this year the label stopped promoting last fall’s Invincible, Jackson’s long-awaited comeback album. The sites claim Sony sabotaged the record in a plot to take over Jackson’s share of a song catalog he and the label co-own that includes the work of the Beatles. The online campaigns, which have bombarded Sony with faxes and e-mails, also cite Sony’s failure to release Jackson’s star-studded September 11 tribute song, “What More Can I Give” (see “Post-9/11 Tribute Albums And Singles: Big Plans, Not So Big Results”).
Sony spokespeople did not return calls Thursday (June 6), but a company rep told the New York Times, “We are proud of the job we have done marketing and promoting Invincible worldwide.”
Jackson himself did little to promote Invincible. Though he did perform at two high-profile concerts in September and he staged one record signing, he did not tour. The media-shy singer has also granted almost zero interviews.
In spite of his recent lackluster sales, though, Jackson is still regarded as a music superstar, and aligned with Sharpton and Cochran their organization could be a powerful player in the growing war between artists and the record labels.
Sharpton, a popular civil rights activist, said his initiative is willing to work with the Record Artists Coalition, a similar artist-rights group Don Henley and Sheryl Crow formed last year that includes No Doubt, the Offspring and Deftones
One of the RAC’s leaders, No Doubt manager Jim Guerinot, said his group welcomes the new coalition and wishes them success on their parallel agenda. “The RAC maintains our own leadership, our own agenda and means for fighting the artist-rights battle but encourage any and all groups like AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), FMC (Future of Music Coalition) and this new collective,” he said. “There is plenty of room for another voice to pitch in and defend the rights of musicians and working artists.”
Operating under Sharpton’s civil liberties organization the National Action Network, the new coalition will hold a summit in New York later this month to introduce more members. Aside from financial issues, the group will also fight for health care and free agency for artists.
“It is our intention to break up the kinds of indentured servant-type of arrangement that many in the record industry now have with record companies,” Sharpton said, according to Billboard. “We hope that this initiative would make it possible where one day the artist on the CD is as big as the companies that put out the CD.”
The new initiative is Jackson’s second time teaming with Cochran. The lawyer, who famously defended O. J. Simpson, helped negotiate a settlement between Jackson and a 13-year-old boy who brought molestation charges against him in 1993.