Michael Jackson's Biggest Chart Thrills
Michael Jackson's Biggest Chart Thrills

Hackers have reportedly stolen more than 50,000 music files from Sony Music, including Michael Jackson's entire back catalog and a large number of unreleased songs from the late King of Pop.

According to British newspaper The Sunday Times, the theft took place in April last year when hackers attacked Sony's PlayStation Network and stole the personal data of 77 million registered users. The simultaneous copying of over 50,000 music files was discovered by Sony several weeks later, says the Sunday Times, but has only now come to light. An exact breakdown of artists and repertoire included among the 50,000 illegally downloaded songs is not known, but it is said to contain Jackson's entire back catalog, including previously unheard duets with Black Eyed Peas Will.i.am and the late Queen singer Freddie Mercury.

Sony today confirmed the report to the BBC.

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In March 2010, Sony paid the Jackson estate a $200 million guaranteed contract (potentially rising to $250 million) in return for 10 projects over seven years. Included in the terms of the deal was unreleased material from "Off the Wall," "Thriller" and "Bad" studio sessions, as well as the right to exploit Jackson's catalog in video games, amusement park rides, television adverts and memorabilia. The deal took place nine months after Jackson died, aged 50, from a drugs overdose.

The Sunday Times quotes a well-placed source as saying, "Everything Sony purchased from the Michael Jackson estate was compromised." According to the Sunday Times, the theft of Jackson's catalog was discovered in the weeks following the initial attack on Sony's PlayStation Network through routine monitoring of social networking sites, Jackson fan sites and hacking forums.

"It caused them to check their systems and they found the breach," the paper's label source is quoted as saying, adding, "Sony identified the weakness and plugged the gap."

Sony Music did not respond to requests to comment when contacted by Billboard.biz, although The Sunday Times claims that major has confirmed the theft of Jackson's catalog. It refused to comment on how many tracks were downloaded, or whether any other Sony artists were among those whose repertoire was stolen. In addition to Michael Jackson, Sony Music distributes the catalog for Jimi Hendrix, while Chris Brown, Leonard Cohen, Foo Fighters, Paul Simon and Avril Lavigne are among the big name artists signed to the music major.

The Sunday Times reports that Sony informed the Jackson estate about the theft as soon as it was discovered before contacting the cybercrime wing of the U.K. Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), who took over the case. On Friday March 2, two men appeared at Leicester crown court accused of offences in connection with the alleged security breach. Both men denied charges under the Computer Misuse Act and the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act and were released on bail, reports U.K. newspaper The Guardian. They will stand trial next January.