Prince's Estate Sues Roc Nation Over Tidal's Claim on Streaming Rights
Tidal has been streaming much of Prince’s digital catalog without permission, according to a new lawsuit filed by the Purple Rain icon’s estate and reviewed by Billboard. Prince’s label (NPG Records) and publishing arm (NPG Music Publishing) filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. district court in Minnesota on Tuesday against Roc Nation that alleges Tidal is committing copyright infringement by continuing to host the late artist’s back catalog, including 15 albums of rare material posted to the service in June. The StarTribune first reported the story.
The lawsuit asserts that on Aug. 1, 2015, NPG and Roc Nation entered an agreement to allow Tidal to exclusively stream (and sell) Prince’s "next newly recorded" studio album, which turned out to be HitNRun: Phase 1, released Sept. 7, 2015, for 90 days from the date of the agreement. According to the claim, Tidal misinterpreted that language and began "exploiting many copyrighted Prince works in addition" to the new album in early June -- effectively, those 15 albums posted on Prince's birthday.
As Billboard previously reported, Roc Nation and Tidal believe that an arrangement with NPG dated Aug. 1, 2015 gave it the right to "exclusively stream [Prince's] entire catalog of music, with limited exceptions," according to paperwork filed Nov. 11 in Minnesota district court. In those documents, Roc Nation says it asserted its rights to the catalog in three claims filed across May and October of this year.
The two competing claims agree on one central fact: that Roc Nation and Tidal had an exclusive agreement to stream and sell HitNRun: Phase 1 for 90 days. But on almost every other point the two sides are opposed. Roc Nation asserted a second agreement, signed in July 2015, which gave Tidal the exclusive digital rights to Prince's music for a period of five years in exchange for an advance and subsequent royalties; it also said the Aug. 1 agreement allowed it exclusive streaming rights to Prince's "entire catalog of music, with certain limited exceptions, on the Tidal streaming service."
Prince's own statements and actions from the time period seem to support that some relationship was in place by July 2015; at the beginning of that month, the iconic artist pulled his music down from every streaming service except Tidal, and on Aug. 7 announced his agreement with Jay Z's company to release his next album through the service. "TIDAL have honored Us with a non-restrictive arrangement that once again allows Us to continue making art in the fashion We've grown accustomed 2 and We're Extremely grateful 4 their generous support," he said at the time.
NPG stated in its filing this week, however, that "Roc Nation and Tidal have not provided any documentation substantiating Roc Nation’s claim that it has rights to exploit any Prince Copyrighted Works in addition to the works that comprise the HitNRun: Phase 1 album." The trust representing the estate, however, without admitting that any documentation was valid, then terminated "any such license that might have existed."
The estate is suing for damages on copyright infringement grounds and demanding that Tidal stop exploiting the catalog. Roc Nation requested its agreements be allowed to stand and for access to the Bremer Trust's business dealings on behalf of the estate in order to protect its interests.
Earlier this month, the fate of Prince’s catalog on streaming services appeared to be put to bed after it was announced Universal Music Publishing Group had won the job to become exclusive worldwide publishing administrator for the artist’s entire catalog -- both released and unreleased. Tidal’s claim to exclusive streaming rights -- which Prince’s estate is now disputing in court -- has apparently put that on hold for now.