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Universal renews request to cancel Prince recordings deal

By | Published on Thursday 29 June 2017


Having now seen the deal made between Prince and Warner Music before his death, Universal Music has renewed its request to have its more recent deal with the Prince estate over the late musician’s recordings catalogue rescinded. And the major label has stressed that if the judge overseeing the case doesn’t hurry up, it’ll be forced to launch a full scale legal challenge.

As previously reported, Universal Music did three deals with the Prince estate to represent the musician’s song rights, merch rights and recording rights. However, Warner Music seemingly then came forward and said that the latter of those deals conflicted with its earlier agreement signed when the star was still alive.

Earlier this month, Universal was allowed to see, for the first time, the deal Prince signed with Warner. Having had a good read of it, Universal’s lawyers remain convinced that the mega-major’s $30 million+ deal should now be cancelled. Though not because the two deals definitely conflict. Rather, they can’t make head nor tail of the Warner contract or the rights it may or may not provide the mini-major.

In a new legal filing this week, Universal’s lawyers said that the language of the Warner deal was too ambiguous for them to work out if there was any conflict or not.

In a letter to the judge overseeing the case, the lawyers said that the only certainty in all this now was that Universal definitely wanted out of its Prince recordings deal. This is the best course of action for everyone, they said, because “it resolves this otherwise intractable dispute without the expense of lengthy litigation that will tie up these key rights for years”.

That message – aka threat – is likely targeted in part at those Prince heirs who are contesting Universal’s request to rescind their recordings deal.

Although the bank now administrating the Prince estate, Comercia – which was not involved in any of the negotiations with Universal – has recommended to the court overseeing the late musician’s affairs that the agreement be rescinded, some of Prince’s heirs disagree. They being the heirs advised by L Londell McMillan, who negotiated the Universal deals on behalf of the estate in the first place.

It remains to see if the possibility of a lengthy legal battle convinces them, or more importantly the judge, that Universal should just get its $30 million or so back right now. The estate would then have to find a new partner to work with on Prince’s recordings. By the sound of it, it would be easiest to give it all to Warner, so that no one ever has to really work out what that 2014 deal said. Though that would likely allow Warner to secure an arrangement with a lower financial commitment.