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Court Voids Universal Music Group’s $31 Million Deal With Prince Estate

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Court Voids Universal Music Group's $31 Million Deal With Prince Estate

UMG still controls the rights to administer Prince’s publishing worldwide, as well as to make his merchandise.

Universal Music Group will get its $31 million back from the Prince estate, according to a court order issued Thursday.

After buying the rights to a package of Prince’s recorded music — including his “vault” of unreleased music and an array of other albums — in late January, a deal that had been structured as an advance on future royalties, a judge granted the estate administrator’s motion to void the deal due to ambiguity surrounding whether the rights conflicted with Warner Music Group’s rights.

The move raises the question of whether the estate’s former advisors, L. Londell McMillan and Charles Koppelman, will keep the combined 10 percent commission they earned on the deal. McMillan, who worked as Prince’s attorney and business partner for more than a decade and currently serves as a business advisor to three of Prince’s half-sibling heirs, had been pushing both UMG and the court to preserve the deal in recent weeks, trying to assure UMG executives on a call last month that they would be able to exercise the rights they’d agreed to purchase.

But UMG continued to press for a refund, threatening legal action.

“It has been suggested that UMG is bluffing and they really wouldn’t file suit,” the order reads, but after UMG’s attorneys were permitted to review WMG’s agreements and reiterated their concerns in a June 26 letter, “this does not appear to be a bluff.”

The judge noted that while the court was “reluctant” to grant the rescission, “the other option of long and potentially expensive litigation" while tying up the estate’s music rights is “more treacherous.”

UMG still controls the rights to administer Prince’s publishing worldwide, as well as to make his merchandise.

The estate can now shop the recorded-music rights to another buyer, though they will likely fetch less than $31 million.

Potential buyers include WMG, which released Prince’s first 18 albums and also has rights to some of the material in the “vault.” 

This story first appeared on Billboard.com.

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