Court Partially Voids Deal Between Prince's Estate and Universal Music

In re: The Estate of Prince Rogers Nelson, Deceased, No. 10-PR-16 in the Carver County District Court June 2017.

A Minnesota judge voided a portion of Universal Music Group’s $31 million deal with Prince’s estate, ordering the estate to refund Universal Music Group’s advanced payment.

After determining that the exclusive licensing agreement made back in January included rights that were already guaranteed to Warner Bros. through previous agreements, Prince’s estate asked the court to rescind the agreement so they could ensure no overlapping occurred. The court determined that rescinding the agreement was in everyone’s best interest as opposed to long and expensive litigation. 

Suit Against Singer's Heirs Advances Over Royalties

Artists Rights Enforcement Corp. v. Haskins, No. 105227/04, 2008 NY Slip Op 33357(U), 1/2/09 N.Y.L.J. "Decision of Interest" (N.Y. Sup. Ct., N.Y. Co., Dec. 16, 2008)

Plaintiff corporation specializes in assisting artists, songwriters and music publishers with the recovery of royalties and other fees due from their artistic material and/or performances. Plaintiff now asserts causes of action for breach of contract, tortious interference with contractual relations and tortious interference with prospective economic advantage against the heir of John Kendricks, a singer and composer, whose work includes "The Twist." The action is based on a 1984 agreement between plaintiff and the singer/composer. For many years, until the mid-1980s, the singer/composer was not receiving royalties. In an effort to collect the royalties, he entered into a written letter agreement with plaintiff in 1984. It was undisputed that the singer/composer signed the 1984 agreement, under which plaintiff was entitled to receive 50% of all amounts realized as a "proximate result" of plaintiff's activities in recovering royalties due to the singer/composer. The court denied plaintiff's summary judgment motion.

Zappa Update

As previously reported by OTCS, the sole trustee of Frank Zappa's family trust (and Zappa's wife) filed suit in SDNY against Rykodisc for copyright and trademark infringement. According to the complaint:

Upon Zappa's death in 1993, the Trust acquired all rights and interest in Zappa's sound recordings. The Trust and Rykodisc entered into an agreement in 1994 granting the label certain un-released recordings. After a certain period, Rykodisc had an option to exploit those recordings retained by the Trust but submitted to the label for exploitation. (If Rykodisc did not exercise its option, the Trust could seek 3rd party exploitation, but Rykodisc would have a matching right.) Rykodisc was also granted the rights to exploit album artwork and images for the sound recordings it acquired, but it was restricted from altering the artwork.

However, according to Plaintiff, Rykodisc breached the agreement by asserting it had acquired more rights than it did, licensing various recordings for digital and vinyl distribution -- thereby diminishing the "integrity" (sound quality) of the recordings--, releasing masters it did not have the rights to, issuing misleading advertisements with regards to various compilations (e.g., "Best of..."), altering the artwork, and failing to pay mechanical royalties. Thus, in addition to breach of contract, Plaintiff brought numerous copyright and trademark claims, and a claim for accounting.

On each of its willful copyright infringement claims, the Trust seeks maximum statutory damages ($150,000).

[Zappa v. Rykodisc, Inc.; case number 08-cv-00396-WHP; filed 1/15/08]