As if losing an artistic icon isn’t enough, anytime we lose a legendary musician more often than not legal troubles are right behind. And unfortunately with Prince, it doesn’t look to be any different.
News broke today that Universal Music Group has demanded the cancellation of its $31 million deal with the Prince estate, a deal involving the deceased icon’s music catalog, and all of their money be returned, this according to court documents filed on behalf of the estate’s administrator, Comerica Bank.
A partially-redacted letter that was sent to the Carver County District Court in Minnesota on behalf of Comerica, it was written that UMG has accused former estate entertainment advisor L. Londell McMillan of fraudulent inducement (basically providing false facts to coerce the estate’s decisions) in connection with the deal, and is looking to the court to rescind the agreement.
At the heart of the issue is an agreement that was first announced back in February by former estate entertainment advisors McMilan and Charles Koppelman between the Prince estate and UMG. The deal granted major label exclusive global licensing rights to all of Prince’s post-1996 catalog (released under NPG records) as well as unreleased material and the U.S. rights to “certain renowned albums” from his 1979-1996 run, which were released while he was in under Warner Bros. Records. A press release from Universal was said that those albums would be licensed to UMG at a later date, reportedly as early as 2018.
Now, that’s all fine and good. The problems arose when UMG tried to move forward with their deal in preparation of the one-year anniversary of Prince’s death in April 21, 2016. Questions started emerging about whether the estate’s camp had misrepresented the licensing rights it sold to the record company. The previously mentioned press released stated that some of Prince’s Warner Bros.-era albums could be licensed as soon as 2018, however Warner’s rights on those albums won’t expire until 2021. Timing is a sensitive factor as UMG’s separate merchandise and music-publishing deals with the estate aren’t guaranteed beyond the next five years.
McMillan has outright denied any allegations, while Koppelman has declined to comment. The estate has since replaced both with Spotify’s global head of creative services Troy Carter, who said the estate is “assessing all rights relating to Prince’s recorded music.” More details will surely emerge as a hearing is scheduled later this month regarding UMG’s demands for the deal being rescinded.
Also mentioned in the court documents was the potential release of a new concert film from a 1983 gig where Prince debuted several songs from his at the time upcoming album, Purple Rain. Comerica notified counsel to Prince’s potential heirs after learning of the proposed transaction of the concert footage. However three of Prince’s non-excluded heirs have retained McMillan as a business advisor and requested a NDA to be drawn up to share the proposal with him. The NDA request prompted the letter from Comerica this week, where they argued that the estate is now adverse to McMillan with the UMG rescission hearing still to take place.
Heirship issues are still on the line as well, as Prince’s younger sister and five half-siblings are still waiting for an official ruling on their heirship to the estate from a judge.