At the risk of saying something profoundly controversial: It seems like contract law is very complicated and designed in such a way that the complexity is more of a feature than a bug, with someone’s ability to get what they want out of a contract having more to do with how well they can argue about it than the actual text of the thing. Anyway, this is on our minds because a judge in California has decided to reverse a 2017 decision by a Los Angeles jury to award music producer Quincy Jones $9.42 million in damages because of unpaid royalties he said he was owed by the Michael Jackson estate (via The Hollywood Reporter).
According to an appeals court judge, the previous trial judge did not “adequately interpret” the contracts between Jones and Jackson, and the case probably didn’t even need to go to a jury in the first place. Instead, the judge should’ve “looked at extrinsic evidence about the contract to make a preliminary determination” and then decided whether or not there were “at least two interpretations” and “enough conflict” to justify getting a jury involved, which the appeals judge did not believe there was. Basically, it sounds like the appeals judge said there was enough information in the contracts themselves to decide what to do, so the appeals court looked at them and figured that a big chunk of the $9.42 million was unnecessary and that the decision should be reversed. The court decided that Jones was still owed some royalties, but not to the extent that the initial jury had determined, so now it’s going back to the trial judge who will “sharply slash the award” that had previously been given to Jones.
So it’s all pretty complicated, but the simple version is that one judge thinks the other judge did a bad job reading the contract and made the wrong decision, so Quincy Jones is going to get less money from the Michael Jackson estate than he was supposed to get before.