Wrangling continues over copyright to 6 unreleased Prince songs

| May 1, 2017 | Copyright Law

Just before the anniversary of Prince’s death, a former colleague thrilled fans by promising to release six new, previously unreleased songs the artist recorded with him. Then, a federal judge issued an order that he refrain from releasing unreleased recordings made by Prince. The former sound engineer responded by posting one of the songs, “Deliverance,” online and making it available for download.

It all started when the internationally renowned artist was working with the sound engineer in 2006. The engineer claims that he and Prince agreed to share ownership of the songs — but Prince’s estate claims Prince had “sole and exclusive” ownership of the tracks.

In any case, the sound engineer had sound recordings and masters for five of the songs in his possession. He was accused of having no ownership interest and trying to exploit the songs for personal gain. He was also accused of violating the confidentiality agreement Prince routinely put into place when working with people at Paisley Park, his studio and production company.

Paisley Park Enterprises and, in its role as Prince’s estate administrator, Comerica Bank, demanded on March 21 that the sound engineer return of all recordings of Prince in his possession, be they masters, copies or reproductions. He refused.

Paisley Park and Comerica next filed suit in a Minnesota district court seeking to stop the release of the songs. Likely due to the size and complexity of the estate and the interstate-character of a music release, their complaint was moved to federal court.

Based on several factors, including the threat of irreparable harm to the estate’s interests, the federal judge issued a temporary restraining order on April 19 against releasing any unreleased music. According to the Courthouse News Service, this was defined as any recordings referenced in the confidentiality agreement between the sound engineer and Paisley Park.

If that was definition used to describe which songs could not be released, it’s possible that the song “Deliverance” was not included in that agreement. Because the sound engineer promptly released the song on the 21st.

“The Federal Court located in Minnesota has temporarily enjoined the release of the remaining unreleased tracks on the ‘Deliverance’ EP,” said his attorney in a statement. “The court order has not enjoined the released single ‘Deliverance.’ Therefore the ‘Deliverance’ single will continue to be sold.”

So, when the restraining order expires on May 4, the first order of business will be for the court to decide who actually owns “Deliverance.”