Michael Jackson Image Credit: AFP

Michael Jackson’s record label Sony has been caught up in a legal battle over whether the singer really performed the lead vocals on three songs in a posthumous album released under his name.

In a US court this week, in attempting to persuade a judge that it should not be a defendant in a lawsuit over the songs, Sony hypothesised that Jackson was not the main singer on Breaking News, Keep Your Head Up and Monster — but argued that such a scenario would not mean it had no legal right to sell the music under his name.

Sony’s argument was seized upon by its opponents as evidence that the tracks are fake. But the label emphasises that the admission is “only for the purposes of this motion” and reserves the right to take a different stance outside of the appeal.

In a separate statement, Sony has insisted it has not conceded that Jackson did not sing “on” the songs and says that the case is about its protection under the First Amendment.

Nonetheless, the global music conglomerate’s legal argument marks a significant development in a fan-led legal case that has blighted the company for years.

The songs in question appeared on Jackson’s first posthumous album, Michael, released in 2010, the year after his death. It debuted at No 3 on the Billboard 200, selling 85,000 copies in its first week.

When it was released the album immediately sparked controversy over whether the voice on it really was that of the dead Thriller singer.

Jackson’s Epic record label, part of the Sony Music Entertainment Group, said at the time it had “complete confidence” that the vocals on the new album were Jackson’s own. But his sister, La Toya Jackson, was quoted as saying: “It didn’t sound like him,” in an interview with the celebrity website TMZ.

In 2014, fan Vera Serova brought the case against Jackson’s longtime friend Eddie Cascio and his brother’s production company, Angelikson Productions LLC, accusing them of producing fake songs and then selling them through the late artist’s estate and Sony Music Entertainment.

Angelikson and Cascio have denied the claims. In an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show, Cascio said: “I can tell you that it is Michael’s voice.”

Sony is currently taking part in an intermediate appeal about whether it should stay as a defendant in a class-action lawsuit case brought by Serova. For the purposes of legal argument, it said it had accepted Jackson did not sing all the vocals, but that even if this was the case it was not given this information when the album was released and could not be expected to have known.

Sony said that if anyone misrepresented the origin of the vocals, it was the Angelikson defendants. Court documents published online read: “For purposes of the appeal, appellants [Sony] accept that Jackson did not sing all the lead vocals on the Cascio tracks.

But also for the purposes of the appeal, and based on their own express pleading admissions, respondents must accept that appellants did not know that someone else was the singer.”

Sony Music Entertainment is applying to a higher court for a reversal of the decision of a lower court. The court of appeal will now decide if the company should stay as a defendant in the case or should be dismissed and allowed to continue selling the album.

Others who have followed the case are convinced that the songs are not Jackson’s. Mike Smallcombe, author of the Michael Jackson biography Making Michael, said: “Those three songs need to be removed from the album immediately, and the executors of the estate should resign.”

Damien Shields, author of Michael Jackson: Songs and Stories, described the case as “perhaps the most high-profile artistic fraud in the history of popular music”.

In a statement, Sony said: “No one has conceded that Michael Jackson did not sing on the songs. The hearing on Tuesday was about whether the first amendment protects Sony Music and the estate, and there has been no ruling on the issue of whose voice is on the recordings.”