How does one properly value Jackson's name and image at the time of his death?
This month, a groundbreaking tax trial begins over what Michael Jackson's estate owes the Internal Revenue Service for the value of the late entertainer's image and likeness when he died in 2009. The dispute's significance not only derives from Michael Jackson's fame and the stakes — perhaps as much as $1 billion — but also first impression legal questions that will impact how celebrities prepare for their eventual demise.
Maybe it's no surprise then that as the case nears trial proceedings in California, U.S. Tax Court judge Mark Holmes is having to figure out whether to allow testimony and expert reports from some of the most distinguished legal scholars out there. For instance, UCLA Law School professor Eugene Volokh saw his report on behalf of the Estate ruled inadmissible in December while copyright legend David Nimmer's report on behalf of the IRS is currently pending a motion to preclude.
The big issue for Holmes to settle is how to properly value Jackson's right of publicity at time of death. That's not simple. Does it mean the judge should put emphasis on how Jackson's name was tarnished before he died, emphasizing charges of child molestation and rumors of drug use? Should he ignore the lucrative deals that executors of Jackson's estate made with Cirque du Soleil and others after Jackson died? Can the judge incorporate post-death earnings by maybe seeing it through the prism of what a theoretical buyer might have paid Jackson for the right to use his name and image for eternity?