By Sue Zeidler
LOS ANGELES, July 18 (Reuters) - Michael Jackson, engaged in a warof words with record label Sony Music, is now considering suing themedia giant for breach of contract, accusing it of questionableaccounting practices, his lawyer said on Thursday.
Such a move would mark an escalation in an already bitter and publicspat between the self-described King of Pop and Sony. Earlier thismonth, Jackson lashed out at Sony Music chief Tommy Mottola, accusinghim of racism and a pattern of exploiting minority artists.
"We're definitely considering a lawsuit," said Marty Singer, alawyer for Jackson.
"We've asserted claims against Sony. These are claims for breach ofan agreement and fiduciary duties," said Singer.
"We have Enron-like accounting claims concerning the under-reportingof revenues to Michael Jackson as well as other alleged improperaccounting practices," Singer said, adding that claims "could be worthhundreds of millions of dollars."
"Whether or not we're going to file a suit we're not saying at thistime," he said.
A spokesman for Sony Music, a unit of Sony Corp. <6758.T>,declined comment.
Jackson's pursuit of a lawsuit, a common occurrence betweenrecording stars and their labels, comes on the heels of Jackson'sheadline-grabbing attempt to garner support for his dispute against hislabel.
At a news conference with the Rev. Al Sharpton in Harlem on July 6,Jackson shocked the media and the music industry by calling Mottola,chairman of Sony Music Entertainment Inc., "racist" and "very, very,very devilish."
Sony responded by calling his comments, "ludicrous, spiteful andhurtful."
Many in the industry dismissed the eccentric pop star's actions asthe latest bizarre act in a singular career, and viewed the outburst asmore driven by self-interest than a concern for the rights of minorityartists.
LAWSUIT NOT PERSONAL
But Singer said Jackson's pending claims and a potential lawsuithave nothing to do with Jackson's personal issues.
"This is not a personal dispute. This is a legal dispute. It's abusiness relationship. Jackson's records have generated over a billiondollars of revenue for Sony," Singer said.
He said Jackson is claiming Sony acted inappropriately in themarketing of Jackson's latest album, "Invincible," which he blamed forthe CD's relatively poor showing.
The album, which reportedly cost about $30 million to make, has soldonly two million units in the U.S. By contrast, rapper Eminem's latestalbum has sold that many in about two weeks.
A source close to Jackson says he believes Sony may have wanted himto fail so the company could have more leverage in a dispute involvinghis joint-publishing venture, Sony/ATV, which owns the Beatles catalogand is valued at close to a billion dollars.
Some in the recording industry have speculated that if Jacksonfalters, he would be unable to pay back Sony millions of dollars heowes it, and the label could then try to take over the jointventure.
"This dispute relates to more than claims involving the recordingagreement. It also relates to their business relationship in thepublishing venture, which is Sony/ATV," Singer said.
Sony has defended its marketing of the album, which industry sourcessaid cost the label about $25 million.
Many in the music industry believe that Jackson, with one of themost lucrative contracts in the music industry, is trying to blame Sonyfor his flagging popularity.
Singer said Mottola never returned phone calls to Jackson for overfour months when the pop star was trying to market his album.
Singer further said Sony failed to air a commercial during Jackson'stelevised special last year at a time when his album was allegedlybeing promoted by Sony. There are other disputes concerning the releaseof videos promoting the album.
"The 'Thriller' album did not really explode until the 'Thriller'single and video were released, which was well after the albuminitially came out," said Singer, referring to Jackson's blockbusteralbum of the 1980s, which sold nearly 50 million copies worldwide.