Earlier this month on Nov. 2, Universal Music Publishing Group announced it had won the bidding war to become the exclusive worldwide publishing administrator for Prince’s entire song catalog — released and unreleased — effective immediately, putting to bed one of the biggest question marks regarding the legend’s music since his unexpected death on April 21. But in new paperwork filed Friday (Nov. 11) in Minnesota district court and reviewed by Billboard, representatives for Roc Nation claim that a pre-existing contract granted Jay Z‘s streaming service Tidal exclusive streaming distribution rights to Prince’s catalog, and is asking the court to allow its claim to stand and requesting “access to information concerning Bremer Trust’s business dealings in its capacity as Special Administrator” for the estate.
In July 2015, Prince — notoriously tech-shy — began pulling his catalog from every streaming service except Tidal, with some speculating it was a negotiating tactic to leverage his publishing, which he owned and operated in-house, and get a better rate from streaming services. A month later, he announced a new album, HITNRUN, would be released exclusively on Tidal on Sept. 7. “After one meeting, it was obvious that Jay Z and the team he has assembled at TIDAL recognize and applaud the effort that real musicians put in2 their craft 2 achieve the very best they can at this pivotal time in the music industry,” Prince said in a statement at the time. “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.”
The court filing sheds more light on what that arrangement included. In July 2015, Prince and Roc Nation (also representing its associated companies) entered into an Equity Term Sheet, granting Tidal worldwide digital streaming rights to his next two albums — HITNRUN and the December 2015 follow up HITNRUN Phase 2 — as well as one “previously unreleased full-length studio album” over a five-year period, during which NPG Music Publishing would license the catalog for “streaming and other authorized exploitations on Tidal.” In exchange for an unspecified advance and any streaming royalties generated, Prince would also “not grant to any digital music service anywhere in the world exclusive rights” to his music.
A second agreement, signed Aug. 1, 2015, established an exclusive worldwide distribution deal between Tidal’s licensors (Aspiro AB, the holding company that owns it) and NPG Records and NPG Music Publishing, which would last for three years or until the full recoupment of the advance, whichever period was longer. Tidal would also get the right to “exclusively stream [Prince’s] entire catalog of music, with limited exceptions” and retains the rights to exploit both HITNRUN albums in “any and all media,” including physical and digital rights. Roc Nation claims that since neither milestone has been reached, that agreement is still in effect.
Over the past several weeks, TMZ has reported that first Jay Z offered $40 million for Prince’s unreleased tracks; then that the Prince estate was upset with Tidal for posting 15 previously-unavailable albums to its site on the late singer’s birthday this year, which the report says was unauthorized; and that the estate has “not found proof” that the advance, which TMZ notes as $750,000, was paid. A source close to the company denied each claim in turn and stated that no $40 million offer was ever made; a rep for Prince’s estate said there was “no knowledge” of any $40 million offer after TMZ’s original story Oct. 26, but had not commented at press time on TMZ’s subsequent claims. Due to the vague wording of the “limited exceptions,” it’s unclear from court filing whether those 15 previously-unavailable records were included in the agreement, though the source says they were authorized.
In the court documents, Roc Nation says it asserted its rights to the catalog in three claims filed across May and October of this year, while the Special Administrator has “refused to offer any information” on its business dealings, including the negotiation surrounding the UMPG deal. Roc Nation is concerned that if the estate, through its UMPG deal, grants streaming access to the catalog to Apple Music, Spotify or its other competitors, that could violate the terms of Tidal’s contract.