Universal Music Group (“UMG”) and the estate of late music icon Prince were back in court this past week after representatives of the singer's estate sought to void the parties' licensing deal after executives of Warner Music Group claimed it conflicted with a contract they signed with Prince in 2014. UMG executives bought the exclusive licensing rights to a vault of Prince's unreleased works in January, as well as Prince's albums made under his own label NPG Records.
The court sided with the estate of the 'Purple Rain' star – who died in April 2016 without a will – with Carver County District Judge Kevin Eide granting their request to void the UMG deal. Eide held that there is “ambiguity” surrounding the contracts that would be difficult to interpret and could involve costly litigation for the estate if the deal with UMG is not proclaimed null and void.
Eide ruled that that while rescinding the agreement "may certainly be seen as proceeding with a lack of caution, the Court believes that the other option of long and potentially expensive litigation while tying up the music rights owned by the estate makes the other option more treacherous."
He further held that in the process of determining the status of the license deal between UMG and Prince's estate, attorneys for UMG were permitted to examine the contracts between Prince and Warner Music Group - a landmark deal that gave Prince ownership of the master tapes to all of his Warner albums and oversee the reissue of some of his records - so they could resolve the conflict and as a result, came to the conclusion UMG should be released from its deal.
In a joint statement, UMG and Prince's estate said they "welcome the court's approval of our amicable resolution to this matter.” The estate also noted that it will continue to work with UMG on Prince's music publishing and merchandise. UMG’s Bravado unit still maintains exclusive control over Prince’s image for merchandise and branding.