Prince – the Legend and the Label kiss and make up

May 2014

Artists, sound recordings


Since the infamous fallout between Prince and his record label Warner Bros, which resulted in Prince changing his name to a symbol that was virtually impossible to pronounce, the legend and the label appear to have kissed and made up.

The pair have partnered up and the new deal will see the re-mastered re-release of the album “Purple Rain” in the midst of its 30 year anniversary, with new material also hinted at by Prince, with his new backing group 3rd Eye Girl.

However, and perhaps most importantly (because Prince has sold approximately 14 million albums through Warner Bros.), at the heart of the deal lies the transference of ownership in Prince’s back catalogue currently with Warner Bros…. but now moving to Prince. At first glance it may appear as though Warner Bros. were unprecedentedly keen to get the artist back on side and rid themselves of the ‘slave-masters’ title he’d once given them. Yet, on closer inspection, a piece of American Copyright Legislation made in 1978 may have acted as the initiator and mediator.

Subject to certain conditions, this particular legislation allows creators to reclaim ownership of their copyrighted work, if it was previously renounced by the creator under a contract that was signed 35 years ago.

Although that legislation started to kick in last year, it appears that music publishers and some record labels have conflicting views about what this piece of law means for them respectively. Whilst song writers are agreeably the ‘creators’ in the eyes of publishers, there is talk that record labels are of the opinion that the ‘revision right’ doesn’t apply to them. This is due to the fact that the record labels would argue the artists rendered their services to them ‘for hire’, making the record labels the creator’s of the songs, not the artists. Whether the labels’ argument has clout is up for interpretation and review. Though, if Warner Bros. actions are anything to go by, perhaps the quest for a resolution is not worth the drawn-out, costly legal battle finding the answer is likely to attract.


This Update by Leeza Panayiotou

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