Universal wants out of ‘fraudulent’ $31 million deal for Prince’s music

Feb. 4, 2007, Prince performs during the halftime show at the Super Bowl XLI.

Feb. 4, 2007, Prince performs during the halftime show at the Super Bowl XLI. Associated Press

First, the good news. Oh, who are we kidding? There’s no good news coming out of Chanhassen these days.

Billboard is reporting that Universal Music Group has asked the Carver County District Court to cancel its $31 million licensing agreement with Prince’s estate. And, of course, they want their money back too. Universal says that former estate advisor L. Londell McMillan misrepresented which Prince albums the estate had the rights to license.

Let’s rewind a bit. Back in February, McMillan and fellow advisor Charles Koppelman brokered the deal on the estate’s behalf. UMG would have exclusive worldwide rights to everything in Prince’s NPG Records catalog after 1996  -- that’s Emancipation and everything after. In the U.S., UMG got the rights to "certain renowned albums" from Prince’s Warner Bros. years -- 1979-1996. That wouldn’t cover Purple Rain, for instance, which Warners gets to keep forever. But 1999? Dirty Mind? Diamonds and Pearls? Maybe. Neither side shared the details of the deal with the public.

Apparently UMG was unaware of some details as well. Again according to Billboard, the company was soon making noises of dissatisfaction after apparently discovering that much of the music supposedly covered under the deal was still controlled by Warners through 2021. This seems like the sort of thing a major international entertainment conglomerate would look into before signing a contract, but what do I know -- I’m not a lawyer. (Actually, I am. But still, what do I know?)

Official confirmation that UMG wanted the contract torn up came from a letter sent to the court on May 9 by Comerica Bank, the estate’s current administrator. The bank has its own concerns regarding McMillan.

Though McMillan’s no longer an advisor for the estate, three of Prince’s likely heirs have retained him as a business rep. According to legal filings, Comerica worries about the legal complications that may arise if they’re forced to take legal action on behalf of the estate against McMillan while he’s still representing some of the estate's beneficiaries.

Confused? Well, the upshot for you and me is that this will likely slow down the reissue of "certain renowned albums" from Prince, whatever those might have been.

Just be glad you're not one of the UMG lawyers who signed off on this deal. Or Carver Country District Judge Kevin W. Eide, who has to sort this mess out. And be very glad that you're not L. Londell McMillan.