NPG Records, the party in control of Prince’s intellectual rights, is suing rapper Jay Z’s label, Roc Nation for alleged copyright infringement and NPG is seeking damages of upwards of $100 million, according to the court's docket. The lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, Roc Nation offered an array of the late musician's songs, including "If I Was Your Girlfriend," "Little Red Corvette," and "1999,” on its music streaming service, Tidal, without the authorization to do so.
While NPG Records asserts that Tidal was, in fact, authorized to offer some Prince songs to its customers, namely, those from Prince's Hit N Run: Phase 1 album, NPG claims that Tidal expanded the number of songs around the time of the musician's death without approval from the Prince estate trust. The complaint stated: “Tidal and Roc Nation did not communicate with Bremer Trust [the court-appointed administrator of Prince’s estate] or Plaintiffs following Mr. Nelson’s death about its decision to expand the offering of Prince works on the Tidal service.”
The complaint further held: "Roc Nation and/or its affiliates have reproduced, distributed, and publicly performed, and continues to reproduce, distribute, and publicly perform, Prince Copyrighted Works without permission." As such, the unauthorized streaming of the songs amounts to copyright infringement, "in violation of Plaintiffs’ exclusive rights under 17 U.S.C. § 106," claims NPG.
As of now, Prince's entire catalogue remains available on the Tidal streaming service as a key unique selling point; it is not playable on rivals such as Spotify and Apple Music.
In addition to damages, NPG has asked the court to immediately and permanently, enjoin RocNation, "along with its affiliates, officers, agents, servants, employees, representatives, attorneys, and assigns, and all other persons and entities in active concert or participation with Roc Nation, from reproducing, distributing, and publicly performing the Prince Copyrighted Works other than those on the Hit N Run: Phase 1 album."
Note: while an exact damages amount has noted been cited (the docket, itself, includes a $1 billion figure), the maximum statutory amount allowed for wilful infringement by TIDAL would be $150,000 per copyright. Across 120 songs, that’s a total of over $18 million, plus attorney fees, court costs, and additional punitive damages, the latter of which could amount to millions of dollars on its own.
The lawsuit comes on the heels of a deal that was solidified earlier this month in which Universal Music Publishing Group acquired the exclusive rights to administer the entire catalog of songs from Prince. The world’s largest music organizations have been in heavy pursuit of the musician's songs and recordings since his death.
“With this major agreement, the estate maintains ownership of Prince’s music, and now legions of fans from around the world will have even greater opportunities to continue to delight in his incomparable songwriting and musical expression,” Charles Koppelman and L. Londell McMillan said in the statement. They negotiated the deal on behalf of the Bremer Trust.
Per Bloomberg, Universal will oversee the rights to more than 1,000 songs, including hits “Purple Rain” and “Kiss,” as well as music Prince wrote for other artists, such as Cyndi Lauper’s “When You Were Mine,” and Alicia Keys’s “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore." Terms of the deal were not disclosed.