More than two dozen analog master tapes capturing Michael Jackson singing songs at The Hit Factory recording studio in New York in 1994 have been scrubbed from an auction site after a lawyer representing the singer’s estate threatened a lawsuit this week, Rolling Stone confirmed.
The rare recordings purportedly feature Jackson performing unreleased songs including “Lost in Love,” “Like U,” “New Jelly” and “Rescue Me.” The total of 25 metal reel 2-inch master tapes were unveiled by auction house Gotta Have Rock and Roll last month, drawing the attention of Jackson’s estate. The collectibles dealer said each tape was expected to fetch from $500 to $4,000 and was being sold as “an artifact only,” with no copyright. “Reproduction is strictly prohibited,” the site said, according to archived links showing the since-deleted listings.
On Tuesday, high-powered lawyer Alex Spiro sent a letter to Gotta Have Rock and Roll saying he was representing Jackson’s estate and was 24 hours away from seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the auction house in New York County Supreme Court. “We will provide you with the Estate’s filing papers by email in advance of seeking relief. Please feel free to contact me should you have any questions,” the letter obtained by Rolling Stone reads.
Spiro, known for representing famous clients including Jay-Z, Megan Thee Stallion and Elon Musk, wrote that a different lawyer for the estate, Jonathan Steinsapir, sent a prior cease-and-desist letter on Nov. 29 asking the company to scrap the auction and “arrange to transfer the tapes back to the Jackson Estate.” The auctioneer allegedly responded with its own letter on Dec. 6, stating it would “not comply” with the estate’s demands. Gotta Have Rock and Roll did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday, but the site removed the 25 tapes from its website after Spiro’s letter.
Steinsapir did not respond to a request for comment from Rolling Stone, but according to Billboard, which first reported the legal battle, the lawyer’s initial cease-and-desist letter said that the tapes were “unquestionably stolen or otherwise taken without authorization.”
This latest scuffle over ownership of Jackson’s memorabilia follows after his estate sued Jeffré Phillips, the former boyfriend of Jackson’s sister La Toya, in June 2022 with claims Phillips used the “chaos and sadness surrounding Jackson’s death to steal some of Jackson’s most personal and private property.” The estate alleged Phillips swiped iPhones, prescription pill bottles, handwritten notes, video cameras, computers, hard drives, and even the pajamas Jackson was wearing when he overdosed on the anesthetic propofol inside his rented Los Angeles mansion on June 25, 2009.
In response filings, Phillips argued that Jackson’s mother Katherine personally asked him to remove “any remaining personal or sensitive items” from the house “in the frenzied aftermath of her son’s passing.” He said the items sat “largely untouched” in storage for nearly 13 years, with the co-executors of the estate doing “nothing to locate or recover these items.”
The estate said it only found out about the alleged theft in December 2021, when they claimed someone reached out and said Phillips was trying to consign property for sale at auction. In a petition filed Oct. 9, the estate asked the court for an order authorizing it to enter into a settlement agreement with Phillips that would “fully and finally resolve” their battle.