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Prince estate’s dispute with Tidal rumbles on

By | Published on Thursday 2 February 2017


Amid the ongoing speculation that Prince’s catalogue is soon to return to all fine streaming services, more details about the dispute between Tidal and the musician’s estate have come to light. Meanwhile, the finance firm that administrated Prince’s estate on a temporary basis has hit back at allegations of mismanagement made by two of his siblings.

As previously reported, last November interim estate administrator the Bremer Trust – via Prince’s NPG label and publishing business – sued Tidal, claiming that the streaming firm’s deal with Prince prior to his death only gave it rights to exclusively stream his penultimate album, not his wider catalogue. Tidal and Jay-Z’s Roc Nation countered that they had oral and written agreements with Prince for the wider partnership.

Tidal and Roc Nation filed their own litigation against NPG and Bremer last month. It now transpires that Roc Nation claims it had an agreement with Prince that he would deliver four albums to the company, and an advance was paid to secure that distribution deal. The musician’s final two long-players – ‘Hit And Run: Phase 1’ and ‘Hit And Run: Phase 2’ – were the first two albums expected under that partnership.

It seems that Roc Nation contacted Bremer shortly after Prince’s untimely death to make it aware of its deals with the musician, while also seeking to represent his musical assets on an ongoing basis. But the two parties didn’t reach any deal, instead seemingly falling out over what existing deals were in fact in place. Roc Nation and Tidal then demanded access to any new contracts Bremer was negotiating over Prince’s catalogue, in case those new arrangements would conflict with the rights the Jay-Z companies reckoned they had.

According to Billboard, the judge overseeing the estate has declined to force Bremer to share those new deals with Roc Nation, though he has ruled that the music firm has a legitimate claim against the estate on the basis of paperwork that seemingly does confirm the alleged four album distribution deal. Though the actual merits of that claim are still to be assessed by the court.

The existence of paperwork for this distribution deal seems to contradict past statements from Bremer that Tidal only had a written agreement over the one album, though that’s probably because Prince did different deals with both Roc Nation and Tidal. The nature of his partnership with both businesses remains a little confusing, however, because it seems there may have been various oral agreements that were never written down. It’s not clear what impact any of this will have on the Prince estate’s widely reported licensing negotiations with Spotify, Apple Music et al.

Elsewhere in Prince litigation news, the Bremer Trust has responded to allegations made by the musician’s sister Tyka Nelson and half brother Omarr Baker that it and its music industry advisors – L Londell McMillan and Charles Koppelman – have mis-managed aspects of the estate, and in particular a tribute concert held in honour of the late popstar.

As previously reported, last week Nelson and Baker filed legal documents seeking at least $7 million from Bremer, McMillan and Koppelman. The two siblings and heirs said that the Bremer Trust failed in its commitments to the estate by mismanaging the concert, and by not firing McMillan and Koppelman. They also said that the bank has provided “insufficient” details of the value of the overall estate, having not completed its valuation of most of its assets.

The finance firm denies the allegations in relation to its accounting of the estate’s assets, while it distances itself from the tribute show that took place last October, which was down-scaled somewhat while in production after some artists and a promoter pulled out. Bremer says that it was the family who led on the tribute show, and that it insisted from the start that it had no knowledge of the concerts business so couldn’t be actively involved.

Bremer in part defends McMillan and Koppelman, blaming many of the problems with the planning of the show on disagreements between Prince’s siblings. However it adds that, even if the two entertainment industry men did bungle the tribute concert, it was not liable for their actions on the project, and that it wasn’t even involved in the final contract drawn up between the show’s promoters and the heirs.

Nelson and Baker have wider issues with McMillan – a lawyer who worked with Prince for over a decade – and they successfully blocked a proposal by other siblings that he become the permanent individual administrator of the estate, alongside the bank which is in the process of taking over from Bremer, Comerica. It’s not clear if the falling out between Nelson, Baker and McMillan was a result of the issues around the tribute concert.

Either way, McMillan has now defended his involvement in that show, telling Billboard: “The Prince Tribute was amazing for all who participated and will continue to be beautiful. There was never any wrongdoing and our efforts saved the Prince Tribute by switching venues, providing the funding personally, and calling friends who loved Prince to perform. It was an absolute success. The false allegations evidence malice and ignorance about the music business and disrespect to Prince and his fans who have discernment”.