Artist News Legal

Prince estate reviewing legal options over Purple Rain musical

By | Published on Monday 12 June 2017


So, what do the Prince estate reckon to those previously reported plans by the people behind the Michael Jackson-themed ‘Thriller Live’ to set up a Prince equivalent stage show? “This is a blatant attempt to deceive fans”, says the estate. That’s going to look great on the poster.

As previously reported, theatre producers hope to launch a ‘Purple Rain’ stage show featuring the hits of Prince at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley next February, with ambitions for the production to follow ‘Thriller Live’ into London’s West End. Gary Lloyd, who previously directed ‘Thriller Live’ and is set to work on ‘Purple Rain’, said: “Prince’s music and constant reinvention is legendary, so to get the opportunity to bring that and all his colourful characters to the theatrical stage is a dream”.

But will the dream actually become a reality? “Neither Prince’s family nor the estate have given permission to use his name, likeness or music catalogue for this event”, Troy Carter, in his guise as entertainment advisor to the Prince estate, told the BBC last week.

“This is a blatant attempt to deceive fans into thinking they’re seeing a ‘Purple Rain’ musical on the West End, when it’s only a cover band playing Prince’s songs”, Carter continued. “We’re currently weighing our legal options and look forward to bringing the real ‘Purple Rain’ to the stage in the near future”.

Ah, legal options, yes, that sounds like fun. ‘Thriller Live’ was originally conceived before Jackson’s death by a writer who knew the singer, resulting in the king of pop giving the project his blessing. No such blessing seems to be incoming from Prince’s family.

The legalities around jukebox musicals are somewhat ambiguous. The question here is can Prince’s songs be performed within a stage show under a blanket licence from collecting society PRS or is specific permission required from the musician’s publisher?

The answer to that question is a useful “it depends”. A PRS spokesperson told CMU: “The performance of musical works associated with a particular artiste or band is generally licensable by PRS in the first instance but where the performances are dramatic or quasi-theatrical, the consent of the copyright owner may also be required”.

So, the question to actually ask is: will the ‘Purple Rain’ stage show really just be a covers band singing Prince songs or will it be a musical where the songs form a proper plot? If it’s the former, which seems more likely, that would probably make licensing the song rights easier. Though the Prince estate may well argue that the show’s title implies the stage show is based on the script of the film of the same name, and seek to block the production on those grounds, maybe by accusing the musical’s producers of passing off.

All of which could prove to be more interesting than the show itself.