Disputes over Prince’s estate cloud the future of his vault

A conflict in Prince’s estate over a $31 million deal with Universal for music rights, as well as other copyright entanglements, mean that much of the vault may not see daylight for months or even years to come.

Will fans ever get to hear the full depths of Prince’s storied recording vault?

After the musician’s death in April 2016, attention focused on the trove of unreleased material that he kept hidden in two storage vaults at Paisley Park, his studio complex outside Minneapolis. Over the years, it has attained near-mythic status, and his associates have reported that it contained hundreds or even thousands of songs. Yet when Prince died — without a will or a plan for the music’s release — most of the vault was not even cataloged.

Last week, a small glimpse of this trove emerged with a reissue of “Purple Rain” by Warner Bros. and NPG, Prince’s record company, including a bonus disc of unreleased material.

But a conflict in Prince’s estate over a $31 million deal with Universal for music rights means that much of the vault may not see daylight for months or even years to come. And music industry lawyers say that copyright entanglements may complicate or even prohibit the release of more music; the aborted release of “Deliverance,” an EP that the estate sued to block, may be one example of these problems.

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For much of the last year, Prince’s estate has been in what the judge overseeing it, Kevin W. Eide of Carver County District Court in Chaska, Minnesota, called a state of “personal and corporate mayhem.”

By early this year, things appeared to be stabilizing, with a string of music deals announced with Universal and others. But the estate was thrown into tumult again when Universal said that it wanted to cancel its deal for Prince’s recorded music, which included Prince’s later albums, rights to most of the vault and, critically for Universal, a timetable for obtaining American release rights for some of Prince’s early hits, after the expiration of existing deals with Warner Bros.

Universal said that it had been “misled and likely defrauded” by representatives of Bremer Trust, the Minnesota bank charged with administering the estate, and demanded its money back. According to Universal, it learned after closing the deal that some of the rights it had paid for conflicted with those held by Warner, through a confidential…

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