It’s been one year since the death of music legend Prince, and the battle over his posthumous catalog is just beginning. A six-song EP set to be released on April 21, the anniversary of his death, was blocked by a lawsuit filed by his estate. The EP was pulled from streaming services because of the alleged existence of a contract that would make the recordings Prince’s exclusive property. Prince was well known for protecting his music and maintaining ownership over his work throughout his career, and there are things we can all learn from his legacy.
Prince was a staunch advocate for artists retaining their rights to their music. Early in his career, he entered into contracts that signed away many of his rights to his music label. He spent the following decades fighting his label to regain ownership of his own back catalog. He recognized that with ownership comes artistic control, but also recognized that many new artists have very little bargaining power in negotiating early contracts with record companies. After years of battling his record company, Prince did eventually regain the rights to his original master recordings.
Prince used his experience to fight for the rights of other artists by encouraging them to resist signing away their rights to music labels. Record deals are notoriously one-sided in nature, recognizing that many new artists do not have the means of finding success without signing away all of their rights. Prince encouraged artists to remain independent, recognizing the importance of holding all of the rights to one’s own intellectual property.
With the advent of digital music platforms, such as Spotify and Apple Music, Prince remained influential by recognizing that restrictive deals allow corporations to make more money than the artists. Famously, Prince’s music was hard to find online until recently. Other artists, such as Adele and The Black Keys, have taken Prince’s lead in openly criticizing digital music platforms and not allowing their music to be streamed on certain platforms.
Last week, a six-song EP consisting of previously unreleased songs was announced by the Rogue Music Alliance, an independent label which called the EP the “unheard spiritual voice of Prince Rogers Nelson.” The EP was engineered and mixed by George Ian Boxhill, who worked with Prince in recording the songs between 2006 and 2008. However, less than 24 hours later, the Deliverance EP was hit with a lawsuit from Prince’s estate.
In the complaint, the estate alleged that Boxhill signed a confidentiality agreement which stated that anything he worked on “would remain Prince’s sole and exclusive property.” The agreement also allegedly stated that Boxhill “would not use any recordings or property in any way whatsoever,” and that he would return any recordings to the Prince estate upon request. Currently, Boxhill is refusing to return the master recordings.
The EP’s release was blocked by a temporary restraining order, and the lawsuit is seeking a permanent injunction. The results of this suit could have far-reaching implications on the release of further music from Prince’s vault, which is suspected to contain thousands of unreleased songs.
All intellectual property owners can take away something from Prince’s legacy, not just those striving to become music icons. The importance of retaining tight control over one’s own work extends far beyond the music industry. It is necessary for all intellectual property owners to be aware of all of their rights, and to carefully consider every contract before signing away any of those rights. This latest lawsuit also underscores the importance of using confidentiality agreements and other contracts when collaborating with other people. It is important for all collaborators to know their rights when embarking on work that can result in the creation of intellectual property. Getting advice early on in this process can be invaluable for those hoping to maintain tight control over their intellectual property.