It's now been a month since a Michael Jackson recreation at the Billboard Music Awards earned heavy buzz. In the days leading up to the spectacle, Hologram USA, owned by firebrand entrepreneur Alki David, attempted to stop it by claiming it infringed patented hologram technology that he had exclusively licensed. The Billboard Awards performance was allowed to happen, but the dispute is hardly over.
Thursday, a new $10 million lawsuit was filed by Pulse Evolution, whose animators and technicians spent many months preparing the Billboard Awards show. In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, Pulse is attacking David as a "charlatan who had no involvement whatsoever in the development of the Michael Jackson animation."
Both sides present their own tale of what has happened.
According to Pulse's complaint, David "falsely claimed credit for creating and developing the visual effects spectacle in a nationally-televised interview on CNN, in press releases and on his various websites operated by his company, FilmOn."
The lawsuit paints David as being famous for his outrageous antics and being a "notorious infringer of intellectual property rights," specifically referring to his well-publicized battles with TV broadcasters. The plaintiff is upset with David's alleged efforts to "divert public and industry attention away from Pulse Entertainment just as the company was being launched," asserting that it rises to unfair business competition practices and trade libel.
That "defunct" company is Musion Das Hologram Limited, said by David to be connected to Europeans named Giovanni Palma and Uwe Maas. Where things get confusing is that Pulse has been dong with business with a company called Musion Systems Limited, apparently connected to two more Europeans named Ian O'Connell and William James Rock.
David says he outbid Textor's Digital Domain unit to acquire rights to the technology last February, and that Textor's Pulse "elected to ignore the rights they previously sought to obtain" in the creation of a posthumous performance by Michael Jackson.
Back to Pulse's new lawsuit: The fact that David insists upon calling it a "hologram" in media interviews is noted. According to its complaint (read it here), "This mischaracterization of the [Michael Jackson] animation as a hologram highlights David's complete lack of technical expertise and involvement in the creation and development of the Michael Jackson Animation, insofar as the virtual Michael Jackson appearing at the Billboard Award Show was not a hologram at all, rather, it was an animation projected onto a screen. This distinction is lost on David, because he is nothing more than a fraud claiming credit for Pulse Entertainment's animation."
Is the distinction important?
David's lawsuit points to a USA Today story (with comments given by Textor and Pulse CEO Frank Patterson) that says Pulse refined the magician's technique called Pepper's Ghost, and that the technology was used to recreate Tupac.
David's company, represented by lawyers Craig Newby and Ryan Baker, says that his legal adversaries "have created significant confusion in the marketplace" and "diluted the value of the Hologram USA brand," getting in the way of its discussions to do recreations of Elvis Presley and Bob Marley.
Pulse, represented by Marty Singer and Todd Eagan, responds that David has hijacked the launch of the company and has similarly caused "immeasurable harm" to its "public relations, its reputation and brand."
Bottom line: The business of dead stars has a very live fight.
- This article originally appeared in THR.com.