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The Battle For Control Of Prince’s Vault Begins, Universal Requests $31M Refund

By: Renee Grant

It’s been a long year and change for the family of the late, great Prince. Since his unexpected passing on April 21, 2016, the battle for his estate and control of the music in his storied vault has been highly publicized, since Prince left no will at the time of his death.

One such deal that has caused contention was an agreement between Prince’s estate and Universal Music Group (UMG). The deal, originally brokered by Prince’s former lawyer, Londell McMillan, and approved by the former administrator of the estate, Bremer Trust.

While the deal was originally opposed by all six of Prince’s recently-named heirs in September, citing that the agreement “is not only objectionable, it is unenforceable, and, if entered, may expose the estate to a lawsuit,” the agreement is now being defended by three of the six heirs, Sharon Nelson, John Nelson, Noreen Nelson. In a new memo, the three half-siblings of His Purple Majesty express that the new administrator of the estate, Comerica Bank & Trust, failed to defend the deal. All three now count McMillan as their business advisor and want to preserve the deal.

UMG seeks to end the deal, citing that there are potential conflicts in the case with rights to the music in the vault by Warner Music Group (WMG).

This week, McMillan told Billboard, “There are too many people involved in the estate that just don’t understand the entertainment business” He also accused WMG of “overreaching” and questions why Comerica never pursued a court order to show WMG’s contract with Prince to UMG.

At the heart of the issue is that UMG was sold rights to songs in the vault that were recorded while Prince was still under contract with WMG, and they allege that their rights don’t expire for several more years. Some of the rights that were bought by UMG state that they’ll have access to the music as soon as 2018, but WMG says that simply isn’t the case.

At issue as well is the $3.1M in commission received by McMillan and then partner Charles Koppelman in the negotiation of the deal. Koppelman’s lawyers have argued this week that he and McMillan should not have to automatically return the commission on the UMG agreement should the judge rule to rescind the deal. Another of Prince’s half-siblings and heirs, Omarr Baker, has filed his own motion for the judge in the case to investigate who should be responsible for any fallout from the deal should it fall through, and believes Bremer should still be held accountable.

This is just the beginning of what could be a long battle over the rights to release the music stored in Prince’s massive collection. Once album produced by Prince and a long-time collaborator was already pulled this year by the estate.

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