Image Credit: Canadian Film Centre
One of the legendary producers of pop music, Quincy Jones, now 85 years old, has worked with several of the biggest music stars of the past 50 years including Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. But it is his work with Michael Jackson, producing Jackson's albums Thriller, Off the Wall and Bad that catapulted Jones into rarefied air. The album Thriller alone sold more than 110 million copies, and may well be the highest-selling album of all time. It's fair to say that Jones has used a combination of musical talent and business acumen to earn tens of millions of dollars.
The work Jones did on Michael Jackson's albums gave him rights to receive money from the sale of Jackson's music well into the future, a term known in music and publishing as 'royalties'.
After Jackson died, his estate formed a new entity called MJJ Productions which, along with Sony Music, owned the Michael Jackson catalog. As part of an agreement with Jones, MJJ Productions and Sony allegedly labeled proceeds from music and video-related sales as "profits" instead of "royalties," a distinction which was important to Jones. His contract gave him rights to royalties, but not profits, and he claimed that the subtle difference cost him as much as $30 Million in lost royalties.
According to a lawsuit filed by Jones, MJJ Productions and Sony Music took advantage of Jones' advanced age in what Jones himself labeled a case of elder financial abuse because he was over the age of 64 when the deal was struck.
To determine whether Jones was or was not a victim of elder financial abuse, it is important to understand how such a thing can happen. In most cases, elder financial abuse occurs because a senior has diminished mental capacity - perhaps from Alzheimer's Disease or some other degenerative brain illness. Just being old, however, does not necessarily mean you have diminished capacity. Indeed, I have known many people who were well into their 90's whose minds were razor sharp.
On the other side of the table, the party that wants to financially abuse an elder must intend to take advantage of them, knowing that they are cognitively impaired in some fashion.
If I make a deal with you because I think your mental faculties are damaged, and you buy the proverbial Brooklyn Bridge from me, I would be guilty of both elder financial abuse and fraud. If, however, you are just a poor judge of business opportunities, and you make a bad deal to buy the Brooklyn Bridge from me, thinking that such a thing is entirely reasonable, I may still be guilty of fraud but not necessarily guilty of elder financial abuse. The bright line between the two is capacity, and whether someone has, to put it in layman's terms, 'all their marbles.'
So that was the question a judge was asked to answer in the Quincy Jones case against Sony and Michael Jackson's estate in 2017. Was Jones cognitively impaired, and did the defendants in the case take advantage of him because of it, or did he just make a bad deal?
In July 2017, a judge dismissed the elder financial abuse claim, not on its merits, necessarily, but on the fact that it was included late in the proceedings.
While Sony and MJJ Productions may have tried to take advantage of an old man, Quincy Jones made out fine in the end. A jury awarded him $9.4 Million.
Victim of elder financial abuse? In this case, perhaps not, but we can thank Quincy Jones for raising an important issue into public awareness.