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Prince estate confirms Universal’s $30 million recordings deal in doubt

By | Published on Friday 12 May 2017


Rumours that Universal Music is seeking to cancel its $30 million deal with the Prince estate to represent the late musician’s recordings catalogue have seemingly been confirmed in a court filing by estate administrators Comerica Bank.

As previously reported, the Wall Street Journal reported last month that execs at Universal – which secured the rights to represent Prince’s recording, publishing and merch rights in three separate multi-million dollar deals – had been having second thoughts about the former of those arrangements now that they had had time to dig into the details of the agreement.

Prior to his death, Prince agreed a new deal with his original label Warner Music, ending over two decades of feuding. That arrangement saw the musician regain control of some of his early recordings, especially in the US, which he then licensed back to the mini-major. Quite what recordings are in Warner’s control – now and in the future – varies according to release, format and territory.

Universal’s deal covered the rights to represent Prince’s post-Warner output, including the large vault of previously unreleased works, plus any Warner-released albums as they came back into the estate’s control. It’s the latter albums, and the hits they contain, that Universal was most interested in repping. And, it seems, they thought they’d get access to more hits sooner than the 2014 Warner deal actually allows.

Which is why the mega-major is now trying to back out of the deal, accusing the Prince estate’s former entertainment industry advisor L Londell McMillan of misrepresenting what recordings the deal would cover when, an allegation he has already denied.

We now have confirmation that Universal is indeed accusing McMillan of misconduct during its deal negotiations with the Prince estate, specifically of “fraudulent inducement in connection with the deal”. This is confirmed in a letter sent by the aforementioned Comercia Bank to the court overseeing the Prince estate, which has in turn been seen by Billboard.

The letter has been prompted by a totally different Prince deal that is now being negotiated by the estate in relation to a concert film that was recorded in 1983 and features the first performance of a number of songs from the star’s ‘Purple Rain’ album. The estate is seemingly shopping the rights to stream the live recording to various platforms, including Apple Music and Spotify.

That has required the estate to inform legal reps for Prince’s six presumed heirs of the potential concert film deal, with confidential information about the nature of that arrangement. Three of those heirs are still represented by McMillan, and have asked for permission to share details of the concert film proposal with him.

Which, says Comercia, is problematic because of the allegations of fraudulent inducement made against McMillan by Universal, which is now seeking to cancel its $30 million deal in relation to Prince’s recordings catalogue. A 10% cut of the money generated by that deal was paid to McMillan and his then co-advisor Charles Koppelman as a commission.

The letter confirms that a court hearing is now pending to consider Universal’s demand to cancel its deal over Prince’s recordings on the basis of McMillan’s alleged misconduct.