Attorneys for the Prince estate sent a letter warning longtime collaborator Morris Day that he could not use the name of his band The Time “in any form,” according to documents obtained by Billboard — sparking a sharp response on Thursday (March 3) in which Day accused the estate of trying to “rewrite history.”
Day, the lead singer for the Prince-affiliated funk band The Time, claimed in a social media post Thursday that the Prince estate had told him he could no longer use the name “Morris Day and The Time.” He said he had “spent 40 years of my life” building the name and that Prince had “no problem” with him using it.
“Now that Prince is no longer with us, suddenly, the people who control his multi million dollar estate want to rewrite history by taking my name away from me, thus impacting how I feed my family,” Day continued. “So as of now, per the Prince Estate, I can no longer use Morris Day & The Time in any capacity.”
In response to the post, the Prince estate released a statement: “Given Prince’s longstanding history with Morris Day and what the Estate thought were amicable discussions, the Prince Estate was surprised and disappointed to see his recent post. The Estate is open to working proactively with Morris to resolve this matter. However, the information that he shared is not entirely accurate.”
Later on the Thursday, Day’s camp objected to the allegation of inaccuracy and released the estate’s exact letter to Billboard.
In the Dec. 13 letter penned by attorneys at the firm Fredrikson & Byron, the estate took issue with the fact that Day had tried to secure a federal trademark registration for “Morris Day and The Time.” As the justification for its claims, the estate cited a 1982 agreement in which Day had allegedly agreed that Prince’s company would own the rights to the band’s name.
“Accordingly, Mr. Day has no right to use or register ‘The Time’ in any form,” the estate’s attorneys wrote in the December letter. “That includes use and registration of the trademark ‘Morris Day and the Time.’”
The estate threatened to file legal action at the federal trademark office to block the registration, but said it would “prefer to discuss this matter with you and resolve it through an agreement.” The letter said under such a deal, Day would license his name back from the estate.
In a statement on Thursday evening, Day’s attorney Richard B. Jefferson argued that the estate’s legal arguments about the rights to the band name were “not accurate.”
“The written agreement between the parties gives our client the exclusive right to continue as Morris Day and the Time and is consistent with Prince’s long-standing consent,” Jefferson told Billboard.
Prince died of a fentanyl overdose in April 2016 at the age of 57. Though legendary for his tight control over his IP rights, the iconic artist died without a will – sparking a complex process known as probate in which courts decide how to disperse a deceased person’s estate.
After six years, those messy proceedings are just about complete. But they haven’t formally ended yet, meaning the estate is still currently under the control of Comerica, a bank that was appointed as the trustee for the estate during the probate process. That means it’s Comerica and its advisors that are in the dispute with Day, not Prince’s actual heirs.
When the legal process finally ends later this year, control of the estate will be transferred to two groups of legal heirs. On one side is Primary Wave, a well-funded music industry group that has purchased a 50 percent stake in Prince’s estate. On the other side is a group of Prince’s siblings and their advisors, who make up the other half of the estate.
When reached for comment, a spokesperson for Primary Wave pointed Billboard to Comerica, saying the music company “does not currently have any say in the affairs of the estate while it remains in probate.” An attorney for the other heirs declined to comment on the dispute.