Michael Jackson, considered to be among the best-compensated artists in the recording business, has become the latest star to call for "justice" in the way music labels treat their artists.

Michael Jackson, considered to be among the best-compensated artists in the recording business, has become the latest star to call for "justice" in the way music labels treat their artists. Jackson said yesterday (June 5) he has aligned himself with the Rev. Al Sharpton and attorney Johnnie Cochran Jr., who earlier in the day announced they are forming a coalition to investigate whether artists are being financially exploited by record labels.

"Record companies have to start treating their artists with respect, honor, and financial justice," said Jackson in a statement. "Therefore, I am proud to join this coalition which represents all artists."

Sharpton, better known for his civil rights activism, said too many artists end up bankrupt after years of making millions for record labels. "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," he said. "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 pair said they had been contacted by several artists who have complained about record label practices, including policies that force stars to pay for promotional costs such as videos. "How would it be if Derek Jeter had to pay for his bats, and balls, and glove to go out and play for the Yankees?" Cochran asked. "It's unfair."

Cochran and Sharpton -- who will operate the initiative under Sharpton's civil liberties organization, the National Action Network -- said they would be willing to work with the Recording Artists Coalition, which is demanding new relationships with record labels, including fairer contracts and more oversight of accounting practices. Don Henley, Sheryl Crow, the Dixie Chicks, Billy Joel, and Clint Black are among the artists who are part of that coalition.

Jackson is considered to have one of the most lucrative contracts in the record business. His involvement in the Sharpton-Cochran coalition comes as he battles with his longtime record label, Sony Music. His latest album, "Invincible," debuted last November at No. 1 on The Billboard 200, but fell out of the top-10 in four weeks and dropped off the chart after 28 weeks, and is considered a commercial disappointment.

A gossip column in Wednesday's editions of the New York Daily News quoted an unnamed executive who said Jackson was using Sharpton and Cochran to try and get out of his contract with Sony and owed the company $200 million for promotion and studio time. In his statement, Jackson said: "For Sony to make a false claim that I owe them $200 million is outrageous and offensive."

In response, Sony said: "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."

In making their announcement, Sharpton and Cochran denied the coalition was started to help any particular artist, although Sharpton acknowledged talking to both Jackson and Sony Music chairman Tommy Mottola. "Clearly Mr. Jackson has lawyers to deal with his contract," Sharpton said.

Cochran helped negotiate a settlement between Jackson and a 13-year-old boy who accused the singer of child molestation charges in 1993. Charges were never filed, and Jackson maintained his innocence.


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