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Network and deceased singer’s estate at odds

Individuals and businesses in Illinois know that the way a contract is worded can make a big difference in how it may be interpreted and, therefore, how much protection it may provide one of the parties if a dispute ever arises. People should also be aware that they should be careful to assume that the need to be vigilant about the terms of a contract can last for a very long time, even decades after the original agreement was entered into.

An example of this can be seen in the ongoing dispute between a major cable television and entertainment network and the estate of a now-deceased pop star. Some 27 years ago, in 1992, the singer, who was still alive at the time, signed a contract with the network that allowed the company to use some of the video footage from a live concert video in which the singer performed in an eastern European country.

As reported by Complex, in addition to allowing use of the video footage, the contract included a non-disparaging clause in which the network was barred from ever disparaging the pop star. It does not appear that there was a time limit on or expiration date for this provision.

In early 2019, the network launched what it claims to be a documentary about the late singer. The show focuses on allegations by two men who say they were sexually assaulted by the singer when they were children. The singer’s family claims that the men have stated they were never abused by the singer. The estate also asserts that the documentary violates the non-disparaging clause of the 1992 contract. The family wants the matter settled in arbitration, where the proceedings are protected from the public. The network is fighting this request.