Universal presses bid to void music deal with Prince estate

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Lawyers for Universal Music Group have renewed their request that a Minnesota judge cancel the company's music rights deal with Prince's estate, saying UMG will otherwise have to sue in litigation that could keep fans from hearing new music from Prince's vault for years.

In a court filing made public Tuesday, Comerica Bank & Trust, which serves as executor of Prince's estate, asked Carver County District Judge Kevin Eide to rescind the January deal with Universal after Warner Bros. Records claimed the agreement conflicted with a contract it signed with Prince in 2014. Prince died in April 2016 of an accidental opioid overdose.

At issue is whether the company that initially managed Prince's estate and negotiated the UMG agreement — Bremer Trust, and its advisers, including former Prince attorney L. Londell McMillan — misrepresented the rights that Universal was getting under the deal. UMG says it would not have proceeded if it had known that Warner Bros. would immediately claim that it retained some of those rights and threaten to sue.

The dispute has divided Prince's heirs and generated voluminous filings in the estate case before Eide.The exact nature of the conflicts between the UMG and Warner Bros. agreements, and what Universal agreed to pay the estate, aren't clear because most of the relevant court filings are sealed or heavily redacted.

Universal's attorneys finally got to see Prince's confidential agreement with Warner Bros. this month. In a letter to Eide dated Monday, they said their review only confirmed their desire to cancel the UMG deal. They said the language of the Warner Bros. agreement is so ambiguous that neither they nor the courts are in a position to determine whether the two contracts are in conflict without extensive litigation.

While the Warner Bros. agreement may be ambiguous, they said, the rights that the estate's previous representatives promised to UMG were not.

Universal's attorneys said canceling the agreement would be in the best interests of UMG and the estate "because it resolves this otherwise intractable dispute without the expense of lengthy litigation that will tie up these key rights for years."

Eide last month ruled that Prince left no will. The judge also declared his six siblings to be his rightful heirs — his sister, Tyka Nelson, and five half-siblings — Sharon Nelson, Norrine Nelson, John R. Nelson, Omarr Baker and Alfred Jackson. However, they'll have to wait to collect their shares of Prince's estate. Court filings have suggested it's worth around $200 million, though taxes are expected to consume about half of that.

Baker and his attorneys have joined Comerica in seeking to void the UMG deal. Sharon, Norrine and John Nelson, who have McMillan as an adviser, oppose rescinding it, claiming there's no overlap between the rights held by the two record companies. Tyka Nelson and Jackson have been allied with Baker in most recent disputes.

Legal wrangling is not unusual when settling rich estates, especially when there is no will setting out instructions. But in the case of Prince it could hurt fans eager to hear some of the unreleased music Prince left behind in the vault at his Paisley Park compound outside Minneapolis.

© 2017 Associated Press


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