Prince Catalog Inches Closer to Streaming With License Deal

  • Pact includes rights to more than 1,000 songs, not recordings
  • Both are needed before works can go on streaming services

Prince performs in Pasadena, California in 2007.

Photographer: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NCLR

Universal Music Publishing Group, which represents songwriters such as Justin Bieber and Adele, acquired the exclusive rights to administer the entire catalog of songs from Prince Rogers Nelson, who died in April at age 57.

Universal will oversee the rights to more than 1,000 songs, including hits “Purple Rain” and “Kiss,” as well as music Prince wrote for other artists, such as Cyndi Lauper’s “When You Were Mine,” and Alicia Keys’s “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore,” according to a statement Wednesday. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

The accord, for so-called publishing rights, marks progress in getting the artist’s work on streaming services. While this pact is for Prince’s songwriting, the artist’s recordings will be administered separately and deals for both are needed to make the music more widely available. Universal, part of Vivendi SA, could help broker agreements to license the music.

Most of Prince’s biggest hits have been unavailable on streaming services because he felt artists were insufficiently compensated for their work, a battle he waged for much of his career. 

A singer and songwriter who demonstrated aptitude with a wide range of instruments, most notably guitar, Prince was one of the most influential musicians of the last half-century. His total music copyright catalog -- if it were to go on sale -- could be worth at least $100 million, Derek Crownover, the entertainment-law practice leader at Dickinson Wright PLLC, said in April.

Hot Pursuit

The world’s largest music organizations have been pursuing Prince’s songs and recordings since his death.

“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,” Charles Koppelman and L. Londell McMillan said in the statement. They negotiated the deal on behalf of the Bremer Trust, the court-appointed administrator of Prince’s estate.

In the 1990s, Prince broke away from his music label, Warner Bros. Records, and wrote “slave” on his cheek, because he felt he lacked artistic control. After leaving Warner, he formed his own label, funding and recording his own work. He signed a series of one-off deals with groups including Sony Corp.’s Columbia, retaining ownership of his master recordings. Prince acquired control of his full catalog in a 2014 deal with Warner Bros. Records.

In 2007, he considered suing YouTube for not removing unauthorized postings of his songs. He limited availability of his works on popular streaming services, pulling songs from everywhere except Tidal.

— With assistance by Olga Kharif

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