'Pop slave' George Michael to fight on

GEORGE MICHAEL said that his career amounted to 'professional slavery' yesterday and vowed to appeal after a High Court judge dismissed his multi- million pound legal action against his record company, Sony Music.

A victory for Michael could have revised entirely the way in which the music industry does business with its stars. But at the conclusion of the 74-day hearing, Mr Justice Jonathan Parker ruled: 'I am satisfied that the terms of the agreement are reasonable and fair.'

Michael, a multi-million-selling solo artist formerly with the duo Wham], alleged during the hearing that Sony Music thwarted his attempt to move from heart-throb to serious artist.

He claimed Sony 'killed' his 1990 album Listen Without Prejudice Volume One by under-marketing it after he declined to put his face on the sleeve and to appear in promotional videos. Seeking a 'divorce' from Sony, he disputed the length of his 1988 contract on the grounds of restraint of trade. Michael sat impassively through the judge's 10- minute summary.

Mr Justice Parker's six-page Summary of Judgment was distilled from his full 270-page judgment. He said Michael had re-negotiated his deal with Sony at several stages, had access to expert legal advice and had achieved contractual parity with other music industry superstars.

Immediately after the verdict, Michael, surrounded by minders and handlers, issued a statement. He pointed out that he had first signed with CBS records when he was 18. Now, at 30, his contract still has 10 years to run. In the meantime, in 1988, CBS was taken over by Sony, a multinational company with whom he felt little sympathy.

Michael, whose wealth is said to amount to pounds 70m, faces costs unofficially estimated at pounds 3m. They are likely to be decided in court tomorrow.

In his full summary, Mr Justice Parker praises Michael as articulate and intelligent, but calls into question the role played by his manager, Rob Kahane, whom he called a 'thoroughly unreliable and untrustworthy witness'.

Sony Music Entertainment Inc said: 'We have great respect for George Michael and his artistry, and look forward to continuing our relationship with him.' However, Michael had promised during the hearing that if he lost, he would never record again.