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Prince makes up with Warner Music, re-release campaign planned

By | Published on Tuesday 22 April 2014


Prince has entered into a new deal with Warner Bros Records, the label he rather famously fell out with nearly two decades ago.

The new alliance will see the singer regain ownership of his early recordings catalogue, but he will then work with the Warner Music of today on a re-release programme, at the heart of which will be a 30th anniversary edition of his seminal ‘Purple Rain’ album in ‘remastered with added rarities’ form.

In his statement confirming the new Warner alliance, Prince also reconfirmed that a brand new album is on its way, ie the long player recorded with his new backing group 3rd Eye Girl (something confirmed in his spelling of ‘I’ in the quote). Said the singer: “A brand new studio album is on the way and both Warner Bros Records and Eye are quite pleased with the results of the negotiations and look forward to a fruitful working relationship”.

It’s not entirely clear what involvement Warner Music will have in the new record, Prince having self-released most of his albums since his original fall out with the major. Though he has often worked with distribution partners on previous releases.

While there are marketing reasons why Warner might have chosen to cut a deal of this kind with Prince at this time – ie a re-release campaign is likely to be more lucrative with the artist on side – this new alliance may also be the result of an as yet untested bit of American copyright law.

As previously reported, a bit of US copyright legislation from the 1970s gives creators a one-off statutory ‘reversion right’, which enables them to reclaim works previously given up by contract 35 years after the original deal, subject to a various conditions. The law came into effect in 1978, so the first round of 35 year terms started to expire last year.

The music publishing sector has been preparing for the reversion right cut off for a long time, and indeed has often incorporated similar reversion rights into publishing contacts in more recent years.

However, the record companies reckon that the reversion rights do not apply to sound recordings, because under traditional record contracts the label is the ‘creator’ and the artist a ‘work for hire’. Many veteran artists do not agree though, and it’s a dispute that most expect to be settled in court at some point or another.

Though rumour has it that some senior label executives, less confident in private about their interpretation of the revision right rule, are becoming more flexible in renegotiating legacy contracts with high profile artists who might be tempted to fight for reversion through the courts. And Billboard, for one, reckons that that might have influenced Warner in its most recent negotiations with Prince.

The label, however, has not commented on that theory, Warner top man Cameron Strang instead saying: “Everyone at Warner Bros Records is delighted to be working with Prince once again: he is one of the world’s biggest stars and a truly unique talent. We are also very excited about the release of new and remastered music from one of his greatest masterpieces”.