On Nov. 2 Universal Music Publishing Group (UMPG) won the bidding war to become “worldwide publishing administrator” for the entire Prince catalogue. Unfortunately, for streaming purposes, it may have to license those publishing rights exclusively to Tidal. According to Billboard, on Nov. 11, Jay Z’s entertainment company, Roc Nation, filed paperwork in a Minnesota district court claiming Tidal has exclusive streaming distribution rights to Prince’s catalogue, granted by pre-existing contracts between the streaming service and the late pop star.
Prince stated in Sept. 2015, “TIDAL have honored us with a non-restrictive arrangement that once again allows us to continue making art in the fashion,” and the new paperwork details of the “arrangement.” First, in July 2015, Prince and Roc Nation entered into a 5-year agreement wherein Prince granted worldwide streaming rights to Tidal for three forthcoming albums, and agreed not to grant exclusive rights to his music to any other digital streaming service. Second, in August 2015, Tidal, NPG Records, and NPG Music publishing (Prince’s publishing house) entered into an exclusive worldwide distribution deal, granting Tidal the right to “exclusively stream [Prince’s] entire catalogue of music, with limited exceptions.” The term of this later agreement was three-years or until “full recoupment of the advance.” Roc Nation claims this second agreement, in particular, is still intact because it has neither been the expiration of three years, nor, allegedly, has the advance been fully recouped.
Roc Nation claims this is the fourth time this year it has asserted its rights to the catalogue, and is asking the court to allow its claim of exclusive streaming rights to stand. It also implies questionable behavior by the Special Administrator for Prince’s estate, claiming he “refused to offer any information” on his business dealings, including the UMPG negotiations. A favorable ruling for Roc Nation would validate the terms of the 2015 contracts, and could prevent UMPG from licensing Prince’s music to competing services like Apple Music and Spotify.
Jennifer Marr is an Online Highlight Editor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current second year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2018).