The Rights of a Prince



On the poor day of April 21th, the legendary Prince died at the age of 57 – too early for many. Incredible artist, who made almost 40 albums in 35 years, he was a real control-freak with his music and his rights, for a long, long time.

From the very beginning, he was at Warner’s label, which encouraged him to pursue his quest of fame and music. However, a few years later, he sued Warner to let him do what he wanted with his music and with his name. A long battle – that lasted for 18 years! – started. It became public when Prince changed his name with a strange symbol that could barely be pronounced, and when he put the word “slave” on his cheek. Usually, the label and the artist have an exclusive recording contract where the label markets the work of the artist, and in compensation, the artist will get the royalties. Most of the time, artists that became famous can ask for amendments or renegotiations of the contract, in order to make them more favorable for them. And most of the time the label agree. However, in this case Prince is the exception: he wanted to release more than one album by year, but the label didn’t want to. Indeed, Warner claimed that it was not a good market plan, and that Prince will lose a lot of buyers with this behaviour. They had a very long trial, with a lot of appeals, again and again. They finally reached an agreement in 2014.

During these 18 years, he went to several labels in order to be free on what he releases – EMI, Arista, Columbia, Universal – but finally he ended back to Warner again in 2014. Indeed, he won the trial and was finally able to do what he wanted with his music.

Protesting against Warner

Protesting against Warner

However, the battle of his rights does not stop there.

Last year, he invested a lot of energy to withdraw each of its song from every internet platform – streaming like Spotify, torrent sites like ThePirateBay… The aim was the real fight against free music on the Internet. In an interview, in 2010, he even said that Internet was dangerous for the rights of authors and artists. He wanted to reclaim his arts. Indeed, even if copyright law is made at a federal level, it is not really protected on the internet. It is really rare that people fights for their copyrights, only celebrities and rich people can manage this kind of actions, since the costs can be really high in these cases.

In order to manage the publication of his music on the Internet, he chose an only streaming platform: Tidial, the same one as Jay Z. He also had some action with the giant Youtube. He tried to force Youtube to look everywhere for his music and to shut down the videos that were violating his rights. He did not hesitate to go to court to have the respect of its authors rights. He was very meticulous and perfectionist, and was really engaged in all these actions.

However, while these actions were to keep his rights where he wanted them to be, a really important question remain: now that he is dead, where do his rights go?

He has been divorced twice, his only heir died from a very rare disease, and the closest family he got was his controversial sister.

As his family and his relatives are still grieving, this question is quite difficult to answer. Indeed, no will has been found yet. Some said that there is no Will, he was too unique to think about that – and too young!

After some research, the sister of Prince, Tyka Nelson, said that there were no will in a document addressed to the probate court of Minnesota, where its legacy is disputed. She said also that Prince had five step brothers and sisters, and that they are considered as heirs.

Tyka Nelson, holding a rose with her hairs colored in purple, to honor the memory of his lost brother

Tyka Nelson, holding a rose with her hairs colored in purple, to honor the memory of his lost brother

Once confirmed that they are the official heirs of Prince, the heirs will have access to his fortune, and most important, to the rights of its music, even the one that has not been released yet. Indeed, some are saying that more than 500 songs are hidden in his music studio in Minnesota. He never clearly said what he wanted to do with these pieces of music, and since it is not clear, the heirs will have the possibility to release them as his posthume music.

If the heirs decide to release some of his work, they will still touch compensation. Indeed, in the US copyright law, the protection of copyright last during the life of the author, but also seventy years after his death. So if the heirs decide to publish the work of Prince anyway, his work will be protected until 2086, and the heirs and their heirs will touch compensation of it.

Nothing is really clear currently, and some elements may be found during the trial, or even if a sudden Will appears. The only thing we can do is hope that everything will be settle in the right way as soon as possible.