Following reports that a Michael Jackson impersonator may have sung songs on the King of Pop’s posthumous 2010 Epic Records release, Michael, lawyers for parent company Sony Music Entertainment are denying—maybe, sort of—that the songs are fake, according to Variety.
The bizarre rebuttal stems from a class-action lawsuit filed in 2014 against Sony Music, MJJ Productions, representatives for Jackson’s estate, and other parties associated with the release of Jackson’s posthumous albums. A fan named Vera Serova initiated a suit, alleging that several tracks—”Breaking News,” “Keep Your Head Up,” and “Monster”—are faked.
During a hearing Thursday held to determine whether the album’s liner notes are protected by the First Amendment, one of the lawyers for Jackson’s estate made a statement along the lines of, “even if the songs weren’t sung by Jackson.”
While the purpose of the hearing was not to resolve whether or not the vocals belong to Jackson or another singer, many took the comments were an obvious admission of guilt on Sony’s side. Consequently, social media lit up with questions about whether Sony Music would issue refunds for the albums containing tracks sung by an impersonator.
Sony did not immediately comment on the controversy, but attorneys representing Sony and Jackson’s estate now say those comments were made for the purposes of an argument only. “No one has conceded that Michael Jackson did not sing on the songs,” said Zia Modabber of Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, the firm representing both parties.
But depending on your definition of “on,” the lawyer’s wording raises further questions. Variety notes that singing “on” a track could refer to enhanced vocal tracks, or even tracks sung by another vocalist entirely. Modabber did not respond to Variety‘s request for further clarification.
Sony and reps from Jackson’s estate tried to have the suit dismissed as a public interest matter under California’s Anti-SLAPP statute. SLAPP, a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” is often used to chill free speech by discouraging critics of a major business or corporation, such as in the case about who invented email.