HBO has accused Michael Jackson's estate of trying to limit their right to free speech by claiming that the network violated an already expired contract when they chose to air the controversial Leaving Neverland documentary, according to documents obtained by The Blast.
"Less than two weeks before Leaving Neverland was scheduled to premiere on HBO, Optimum Productions, John Branca, and John McClain [collectively, 'Plaintiffs'] very publicly filed a Petition to Compel Arbitration that aggressively attacks HBO for exercising its free speech rights when it chose to exhibit the documentary, seeks to compel an unavailable 'public' arbitration over an expired contract, and asserts they are entitled to more than $100 million in damages— including punitive damages—allegedly arising from statements made in the film about Michael Jackson," the documents read.
HBO then claimed that Jackson's estate is using this lawsuit as a mere publicity stunt in hopes of saving face after the Leaving Neverland documentary: "The only possible reason why Plaintiffs filed their Petition in court was to attract maximum attention to their public relations campaign against Leaving Neverland and the documentary’s subjects, two men who recount in the film in extraordinary detail how, as boys, they were serially sexually abused by Mr. Jackson."
Ahead of the premiere of Leaving Neverland, Jackson's family and his estate announced that they would be suing HBO for violating a contract in which they agreed to never say anything negative or disparaging about him. This was followed by a $100 million lawsuit filed against the network. HBO did not back down and they've claimed that the contract they had with Jackson was expired.
The company now wants the court to throw out the lawsuit because they feel the documentary is newsworthy and Jackson's estate has no claim to public knowledge.
"But neither the Estate of Michael Jackson nor anyone else owns history, especially history involving a world-famous and controversial public figure," HBO told the court. "Leaving Neverland’s filmmakers were fully within their rights to tell Mr. Robson’s and Mr. Safechuck’s important stories, and HBO was fully within its rights to exhibit the newsworthy documentary."