The first major deal for the late rock star Prince’s music has been inked, and the musician’s songwriting rights are going to the Universal Music Publishing Group for an undisclosed sum, according to the company and the Prince estate.
The agreement gives Universal long-term administration rights for Prince’s hits and raises the possibility that the songs—which Prince kept from many online services—could become more widely available. The CEO of Universal Music Publishing said the company will work closely with the estate on the catalog of about 1,000 Prince songs to provide access to these songs for his fans.
Prince’s estate retains ownership of the songs, and the agreement doesn’t cover Prince’s recorded music rights. Those songs’ rights are still the subject of their own aggressive bidding war. The rights to the rock star’s publishing catalog, which includes lyrics, chords, and melodies of the songs, are extremely valuable. Prince kept close control over this, and in 2014 he regained total control of his publishing. It’s an unusual arrangement, as most songwriters assign their songwriting copyrights to their publishers. Prince also used his publishing rights to limit where his music could be heard online, refusing to let his music be played on YouTube. In 2015, he took all of his music from all streaming services except Tidal.
Prince died intestate—without a will—and with no directions for the management of his music, which is valued as high as $300 million. The estate appointed two seasoned music executives in June, L. Londell McMillan and Charles Koppelman, to manage his music catalogs and do new deals for his songs, which some say were under-exploited. Even if you are not all that fascinated by what might happen with Prince's estate, the moral of this story is that the family was left out completely of the management of his estate, a least this portion of it. That's what can happen if you leave to chance by not creating your own plan.
In a statement, McMillan and Koppelman said, “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.”
Reference: The New York Times (November 2, 2016) “Universal’s Deal for Prince’s Song Rights May Bring a Wider Audience”