When Prince died last April at the age of 57, there was great sadness over the loss as well as some hope that the superstar musician's albums would finally be distributed digitally. Now, though, rights to exploit his works are under a great cloud.
On Tuesday, the administrator of Prince's estate authorized a copyright lawsuit against Jay Z's Roc Nation for putting 15 Prince albums up on the streaming service Tidal.
According to the complaint filed in Minnesota federal court, Prince's NPG Records came to an agreement on Aug. 1, 2015, with Tidal, also owned by Jay Z. But the lawsuit contends that Tidal was only given an exclusive license for a newly recorded studio album titled Hit n Run. The exclusivity was set to run for a 90-day term.
In probate court, Roc Nation and Tidal have filed claims alleging they were granted much more - "the right to exclusively stream [Prince's] entire catalogue of music, with certain limited exceptions," stated court papers.
According to NPG Records' newest lawsuit (read here), Roc Nation has ignored repeated requests to provide documentation or evidence of any oral and implied agreement granting such rights.
"For the avoidance of doubt, and without conceding that Roc Nation had any license, oral, implied, or otherwise, to exploit any Prince copyrighted works in addition to those songs on the Hit N Run: Phase 1 album, to the extent that any such license might exist, Bremer Trust, on behalf of NPG Records, Inc. and NPG Music Publishing, LLC, has terminated, in writing, any such license that might have existed," states the new complaint.
The administrator of Prince's estate has been reported to have given Universal Music Group the green light to open negotiations with other digital distributors about licensing Prince's catalog.
In a Nov. 11 filing in the probate case, however, Roc Nation has hinted that any deals forthcoming with outlets like Spotify or Apple could be a violation of its own rights. Specifically, in a demand for information about the estate's business dealings, Jay Z's company stated it is "concerned that the Special Administrator may be negotiating with third parties concerning the digital streaming of the Musical Assets, or other rights to exploit the Musical Assets, which prospective arrangements may contravene or negatively impact the rights of Petitioners."
So as Roc Nation insists it has expansive rights and puts out an implied warning about others who might wish to stream Prince's albums, it now faces a lawsuit insisting it has no rights and that it is committing copyright infringement.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of NPG Records by attorney Katherine Moerke, demands an injunction as well as an unspecified amount of monetary damages.