A new, more comprehensive suit has been filed against the producers of the Michael Jackson hologram performance at the Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas in May. The life-like performance caught the imagination of 11.5 million viewers and trended on social media for weeks afterward. At heart is the ownership of the innovative technology that gives the hologram experience its power.
Hologram USA and Musion das Hologram Limited have filed the suit in the District of Nevada against John Textor and his Pulse companies and against the executors of the Estate of Michael Jackson, John Branca and John McClain. Also named in the suit are two companies using the name Musion that are not related to Musion das Hologram.
Other parties involved in the infringement include Pulse Vice Chairman Rene Eichenberger and the beloved Swiss war zone surgeon Enrique Steiger, who appears to have been suckered in as an investor.
The suit makes very clear who owns the patent to the technology, how the license to that technology is operated in the United States, and how the producers of the Billboard Awards event allegedly stole the patent, misrepresented themselves, lied to the courts, and announced their intention to continue to infringe on the patent going forward.
The patent is for the only convincingly life-like, high definition hologram technology. It is made using an invention by Uwe Maas, owned by Giovanni Palma’s UK based company, Musion das Hologram, and controlled in the United States by Alki David’s Hologram USA in partnership with Musion das Hologram.
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“John Branca should be ashamed of himself,” David says. “His self interest has blinded him to John Textor’s criminality and he has once again piled more shame on to the Jackson Estate.”
Hologram USA and Musion das Hologram first challenged the parties planning the Billboard Awards performance three days before the event on May 15, after news of the intended performance was seemingly leaked for promotional reasons. The next day they filed in Las Vegas for an emergency court order to stop the performance. At that hearing Textor testified that William James Rock, of Musion 3D, was not involved in preparing the hologram performance, and, indeed was not in Las Vegas. Read TV Mix’s complete account of the inspection here.
Textor is the former CEO of Digital Domain, which went into a dramatic tail spin under his watch and finally into bankruptcy in 2012 (a year when he was reportedly compensated some $16 million by the company). There are numerous lawsuits and claims still pending connected to his tenure at the VFX company, many alleging fraud, including a $3 million dollar suit by Legendary Pictures and actions by the State of Florida, which wants the $20 million it gave Digital Domain to set up shop there back. (It was a project heavily pushed by disgraced Governor Charlie Crist).
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As Jeff Ostrowski of the Palm Beach Post commented on accusations of fraud against Textor: “John Textor’s Hollywood special effects studio [Digital Domain] specialized in making big-screen fantasy appear real. Taking a page from his company’s script, the relentless salesman created a vision so compelling that public officials suspended their disbelief.”
Two investment companies, Iriquois and Kingsbrook, are suing Textor in New York State Supreme Court alleging “common law fraud, aiding and abetting fraud, negligent misrepresentations and omissions, negligence, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and civil conspiracy.”
Eichenberger has also dragged Swiss hero Steiger–one of that nation’s most popular icons, practically royalty–into Textor’s dirty web by luring him to invest money in Pulse. Steiger is a darling of TED talks and the founder of SWISSCROSS–he’s distinguished himself as a battlefield surgeon in war zones across the globe. People with ties to Swiss banking circles are concerned the association with scandal ridden Textor could tarnish the Steiger’s reputation at home.
On the day of the performance in Las Vegas, Judge Nancy J. Koppe in Las Vegas issued an order for an emergency inspection, and, court officers and the attorneys from all parties witnessed James Rock setting up the patented Hologram USA/Musion das Hologram rig for the hologram performance at the MGM Grand hotel. Rock explained to the inspectors that this was indeed the same technology at issue. This was videotaped, as was Textor’s over the top screaming freak out when he realized he’d been caught.
James Rock, and his partner Ian Christopher O’Connell were involved in operating the license for an earlier incarnation of the company called Musion UK in Britain and Italy and were eventually sued by Palma and Maas for allegedly withholding money owed to the real patent holders and for allegedly falsifying documents about the ownership of the patent.
“Giovanni Palma bought the patents from Musion UK when it went into liquidation. Rock and O’Connell created their misleading Musion companies and lost bids to get the patent twice in a UK high court and a court of appeals,” David explains. “Ian O’Connel and James Rock have been collaborating with companies led by John Textor’s Pulse, the Michael Jackson Estate and Cirque de Soliel illegally. Despite us having warned them several times.”
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Hologram USA has also sued Cirque du Soliel for its patent infringing Jackson hologram.
The buzzy success of the Jackson hologram is a testament to the high quality of the Hologram USA/Musion das Hologram technology which produces life-life three dimensional representations of people. The technology builds on the 19th century magician’s trick called “Pepper’s Ghost” but renders it in stunning detail, without the need for glass or 3D eyewear. It stunned people at Coachella in 2012 when it was used under license by the effects company Digital Domain for a Tupac Shakur “resurrection” performance with Snoop Dogg.
Textor has falsely claimed credit for that Tupac performance in marketing his illegal use of the patent for his Pulse companies.
As the suit says, “Although defendant Textor continues to claim credit for the Shakur performance, he was not involved in its production; nor was he involved in Digital Domain’s licensing of the right to practice the Patents At Issue, which was required for that performance. It was only after that performance led to a surge in Digital Domain’s stock price that Textor started to associate himself with the Shakur hologram.”
After the hologram performance at the Billboard Awards, Textor appeared in the press claiming credit for the creation of the technology as well.
He even provided a diagram to USA Today that shows the technology he used to create the Jackson technology is identical to that in the patent held by Musion das Hologram.
There is evidence that Textor knew he needed to license the technology ahead of the performance—there were negotiations with Hologram USA and Musion das Hologram in the months leading up the Billboard Awards, and Textor and his associates falsely claimed in the weeks leading up to the awards show that they had licensed the patent.
In fact Musion 3D’s site claims it has a license of the patent, which both misleads producers seeking legal use of the technology and betrays the fact that the parties are aware that there are patent protections at play. And O’Connel and Rock continue to claim they are using the “Eyeliner” technology—a term specifically trademarked by Musion das Hologram.
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Another shadowy company called Musion Canada has emerged and seems to be copying Musion 3D’s use of Musion das Hologram’s IP and trademarks. It has been added to the suit.
Textor also has made it clear he intends to continue to infringe on the patent, by telling the press he intends to stage resurrection performances of Elvis Presley and Bob Marley.
David says his concerns go well beyond one-time infringement. As he told TV Mix: “By continuing to misuse the Musion and Eyeliner trademarks and fraudulently claiming they are obeying patent law, Textor, Ian O’Connell and James Rock are not just damaging Hologram USA’s business–they are trashing United States patent law and the reward for innovation that the entire concept of patents were created to foster.”
The suit was filed by Craig Newby of McDonald Carano Wilson LLP of Las Vegas and Ryan Baker of Baker Marquart LLP of Los Angeles in the United States District Court, District of Nevada.
David is also the CEO of FilmOn Networks which runs the largest streaming TV service with 40 million unique users a month. It has been in the news lately because of the Aereo case before the Supreme Court. While the decision, expected in June, will affect only a very small portion of FilmOn’s business the important distinction is that FilmOn’s streaming of free-to-air local and network television is free. David has been profiled recently by CNN, Esquire, and the Telegraph. (TV Mix is owned by FilmOn Networks).
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