Courtesy of BBC News

Courtesy of BBC News

In 1992, Michael Jackson founded the first Heal the World Foundation (“Jackson’s Foundation”) named after Jackson’s hit song “Heal the World.” Jackson’s foundation provided medicine to children and fought world hunger, homelessness, child exploitation and abuse. Jackson’s efforts to raise awareness and money for Jackson’s Foundation are numerous and highly publicized. Further, Jackson’s Foundation registered the world mark “Heal the World,” and its associated design on October 25, 1994, and September 19, 1995, respectively. The trademark registrations were canceled in 2001 and 2002. Two days after Jackson’s death, a new Heal the World Foundation (“HTWF”) was founded to “improve the condition of all mankind.”

On Tuesday, John Branca and John McClain, administrators of Jackson’s estate, filed a complaint against HTWF and United Fleet, HTWF’s affiliated corporation. Branca and McClain have a probate court’s authority to protect Jackson’s image and likeness and to prevent sales of unauthorized merchandise. The complaint asserts claims for trademark infringement, unfair competition, violations of the Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act, and seeks cancellation of a trademark for Jackson’s initials that HTWF already received. Branca and McClain claim that HTWF purports to carry on the work of Jackson’s Foundation and made numerous false representations regarding its affiliation with Jackson and Jackson’s Foundation.

According to Branca and McClain, although Jackson’s Foundation no longer exists, and its associated trademarks were canceled, the phrase “Heal the World” continues to invoke Jackson, Jackson’s Foundation, and Jackson’s commitment to improving the lives of children worldwide. HTWF allegedly has 6 registered trademarks, and filed 41 trademark applications, for marks either connected to Jackson or identical or confusingly similar to Jackson’s trademarks, thereby falsely connecting HTWF to Jackson. The complaint asserts the defendants violated “cybersquatting” laws by registering domain names such as “mjaid.net,” “healtheworldfoundation.net,” and “mjquotes.net,” suggesting legitimate ties to Jackson and his estate. Branca and McClain also cite Internet posts by Melissa Johnson, HTWF president, which falsely suggest she had a long history of working with Jackson’s charitable endeavors.

Notably, in August, HTWF filed a notice of its intent to use Jackson’s name and sell merchandise in the singer’s estate case.

According to the complaint, consumers, and the public at large, were confused by HTWF and donated money to HTWF believing it to be Jackson’s Foundation. Branca told the media that he and McClain “will continue to be vigilant in protecting [Jackson's] legacy from unauthorized exploitation and in protecting [Jackson's] fans from being deceived.”

Laura Jill Robinson

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