King of Pop to Be King of Merchandising?

Michael Jackson filming the 1991 music video for "Black Or White." AP Photo

Authentic Michael Jackson products could start appearing on store shelves, cell phones, even in X-Box add-ons if a judge signs off on merchandising deals proposed by the singer's estate.

The current administrators of the singer's estate have presented several proposed contracts to a probate judge for approval. The agreements offer a taste of how the King of Pop may be sold in the coming months and years.

Trading cards, T-shirts, calendars, lighters, stuffed animals that play Jackson's music and games are among the tangible items being considered. So too are denim products and high-end clothing lines, according to the filings.

But Jackson seems destined to try to conquer the digital domain too. Some of the possible products include cell phone screen savers, X-Box themes, video games and digital tattoos for characters in games such as "Second Life."

The proposed deals are between Jackson's estate, concert promoter AEG Live and Bravado International Group Merchandising Services. The contract calls for Bravado, which is Universal Music Group's retailing arm, to receive worldwide merchandise rights.

AEG Live will retain rights to sell certain merchandise related to Jackson's canceled London performances, the agreements state.

Despite a tainted legacy while he was alive, some believe Jackson will even top The King, Elvis Presley, in annual merchandise sales. Presley's estate earned $55 million in revenue last year, $14 million of which came from retail sales.

A separate agreement is being pursued between the estate's administrators and Columbia Pictures for a feature length movie based on footage of Jackson's preparations for his 50 comeback concerts in London. The studio paid $60 million for the rights to the project, the contract filed in Los Angeles Superior Court states.

Jackson's estate — which primarily benefits his mother and three children — would receive 90 percent of the profits from the film, according to the agreement.

The agreements with Bravado are more heavily redacted and do not indicate how much the estate would be paid.

A judge has scheduled a hearing for Monday to consider the proposals.

Jackson died June 25 in Los Angeles and his lavish spending had pushed him hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. Attorneys for the current administrators of his estate, attorney John Branca and music executive John McClain, have stated in court records that they believe Jackson's estate is solvent.

One of the men's attorneys, Jeryll S. Cohen, wrote in a court filing on Friday that the merchandising and film and other entertainment agreements are expected to generate "advances in the high eight figures." Negotiations for other deals are also in the works, Cohen wrote.

The administrators have the authority to combat unauthorized merchandise, and the deals provide Bravado with access to the use of Jackson's name, image, symbols, emblems and other trademarks.

Jackson's estate would have input into which products are ultimately manufactured, the proposed agreements state.

An amendment to an agreement between Jackson's estate and AEG Live allows for a traveling exhibit of the performer's memorabilia. Exact details of the exhibit were redacted, but it calls for the displays to be shown only at museums or venues that both sides agree on.

If approved, the agreements would continue a trend that Jackson seemed to be pursuing in his final months — marketing products based on his days of superstar status.

A lawsuit filed in January by "Thriller" director John Landis accused Jackson of trying to turn the groundbreaking 14-minute music video into comic books and video games.

The director also sued over a proposed Broadway show based on "Thriller." Landis owns some of the creative rights to the project and didn't grant approval to the ventures Jackson was apparently pursuing.
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