Amicus brief urges Court to stop Sony from shirking responsibility for disputed authorship claims on posthumous Michael Jackson album
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra called on the California Supreme Court today to stop companies like Sony from evading false-advertising laws. In an amicus brief filed in the case Serova v. Sony Music Entertainment, Attorney General Becerra asked the state Supreme Court to reject Sony’s interpretation of the First Amendment related to false advertising. Sony’s overly broad interpretation of the First Amendment fails to protect consumers by enabling companies from a wide array of industries to make false or misleading claims about their products and then declare ignorance of the misrepresentation.
“Truth in advertising is rooted in the most basic contract between a seller and consumer. Products must deliver on their claims. If someone buys an album from a recording artist, they should expect that the songs on the album were made by that artist unless noted otherwise,” said Attorney General Becerra. “We must hold companies accountable to stand by their products. Companies have a First Amendment right to communicate, but their claims must be informed and accurate.”
Serova v. Sony Music Entertainment was filed in 2014 as a class-action suit against Sony by a Michael Jackson fan alleging that three songs on Michael, a posthumous Michael Jackson album, weren’t actually performed by the late entertainer. Sony and the Jackson estate dispute that allegation. But rather than giving the plaintiff her day in court, Sony moved to dismiss the lawsuit on First Amendment grounds. Sony argues that it can’t be held liable because it didn’t record the tracks itself; rather, it purchased them from other producers and didn’t know whether or not the songs were actually performed by Jackson. Sony argues that even if Jackson didn’t sing the songs, purchasers who relied on that claim have no remedy under California false advertising laws.
Attorney General Becerra argues in the brief that Sony’s argument would have broad, absurd consequences. It would mean that sellers could escape false-advertising liability any time they resold goods produced or manufactured by another. The requirement could also enable companies to make false claims against their competitors without consequence.
Attorney General Becerra is committed to protecting consumers against false advertising. In August 2020, he announced a $600,000 settlement with PresenceLearning, an online special education service provider, resolving allegations that the company engaged in false advertising and misrepresentations. In June 2020, he secured the largest consumer relief package ever obtained against a timeshare company in a settlement against Welk Resorts Inc. The settlement resolved allegations of false statements and misrepresentations made during high-pressure sales presentations for timeshare resort lodging. And in 2019, Attorney General Becerra filed a lawsuit against Paul Blanco’s Good Car Company, alleging that the company engaged in false advertising, made false statements on credit applications, and deceived customers regarding add-on products and additional charges.
A copy of the brief is available here.