Prince catalogue inches closer to streaming with Universal licence deal

A portrait of Prince by artist Daniel Lacey hangs outside Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minnesota.
A portrait of Prince by artist Daniel Lacey hangs outside Paisley Park in Chanhassen, Minnesota.PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (Bloomberg) - Universal Music Publishing Group, which represents songwriters such as Justin Bieber and Adele, acquired the exclusive rights to administer the entire catalogue of songs from Prince, who died in April at age 57.

Universal will oversee the rights to more than 1,000 songs, including hits Purple Rain and Kiss, as well as music Prince wrote for other artists, such as Cyndi Lauper's When You Were Mine, and Alicia Keys's How Come You Don't Call Me Anymore, according to a statement on Wednesday (Nov 2). Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The accord, for so-called publishing rights, marks progress in getting the artist's work on streaming services. While this pact is for his songwriting, his recordings will be administered separately and deals for both are needed to make the music more widely available. Universal, part of Vivendi SA, could help broker agreements to licence the music.

Most of Prince's biggest hits have been unavailable on streaming services because he felt artists were insufficiently compensated for their work, a battle he waged for much of his career.  A singer and songwriter who demonstrated aptitude with a wide range of instruments, most notably guitar, Prince was one of the most influential musicians of the last half-century. His total music copyright catalogue - if it were to go on sale - could be worth at least US$100 million, Derek Crownover, the entertainment-law practice leader at Dickinson Wright, said in April.

The world's largest music organisations have been pursuing Prince's songs and recordings since his death.

"With this major agreement, the estate maintains ownership of Prince's music, and now legions of fans from around the world will have even greater opportunities to continue to delight in his incomparable songwriting and musical expression," Charles Koppelman and L. Londell McMillan said in the statement. They negotiated the deal on behalf of the Bremer Trust, the court-appointed administrator of Prince's estate.

In the 1990s, Prince broke away from his music label, Warner Bros. Records, and wrote "slave" on his cheek, because he felt he lacked artistic control. After leaving Warner, he formed his own label, funding and recording his own work. He signed a series of one-off deals with groups including Sony Corporation's Columbia, retaining ownership of his master recordings. He acquired control of his full catalogue in a 2014 deal with Warner Bros. Records.

In 2007, he considered suing YouTube for not removing unauthorised postings of his songs. He limited availability of his works on popular streaming services, pulling songs from everywhere except Tidal.