AEG Live Off the Hook in Michael Jackson Trial, Industry Dodges a Bullet (Analysis)

The sighs of relief emanating from AEG Live’s Los Angeles offices could be heard ‘round the world when word came Wednesday afternoon that a jury declared promoter AEG Live not guilty of negligence in the hiring of Dr. Conrad Murray, the doctor already convicted of manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson.

While it is believed that AEG Live would have been insured against damages, had they been awarded, a guilty verdict would have set a precedent in the way touring deals are constructed going forward. But the trial will still likely have impact just because it took place at all.

AEG Live Not Responsible in Death of Michael Jackson

The jury unanimously rejected a lawsuit brought by Jackson's mother that sought to financially punish AEG Live LLC, the promoters of her son's 50 "This Is It” concerts planned for 2009-10 at London’s O2 Arena. While the jury did believe that AEG Live had hired Murray—a fact that AEG Live attorney Marvin Putnam had disputed in the five-month-long trial—testimony showed that AEG was to have paid Dr. Conrad Murray.  And a supposed “smoking gun” e-mail from AEG Live exec Paul Gongaware seemed to suggest that Murray worked for AEG in administering to Jackson. But as Putnam pointed out in his closing arguments, the contract was never fully executed, money never changed hands, and even if it had, Murray was Jackson’s choice and would likely never have crossed paths with AEG Live if not by way of Jackson.

Regarding the issue of AEG Live’s culpability in Jackson’s death, the jury seemed to concur—”they got it exactly right," as Putnam put it—which is, in the big picture, good news for an industry that hires multiple personnel on behalf of artists, particularly superstars on tour deals where the promoter oversees every date. That scenario is common practice for the industry’s two largest promoters, Live Nation and AEG Live, on tours where the promoter/producer pays all expenses, employs everyone, and splits profits with the artist.

How the Michael Jackson-AEG Verdict Could Change the Touring Business

Dating back to the ‘70s, the lines of whom is legally employed by whom on tours has been blurry. Until now, just how exposed these producers may be has not come under much scrutiny, but the fact that the Jackson/AEG Live case even went before a jury changes the game considerably going forward.

Of course, few touring artists would want or need 24-hour doctor care, and Jackson’s is a unique case, to say the least. But the case will undoubtedly change the way producers in the future hire tour personnel.