Let’s Go Crazy: Legal Battle Heats Up Over Unreleased Prince RecordingsApril 24, 2017

On the anniversary of Prince’s death, a battle is being waged over the late musician’s work.

Last week, Prince’s estate sued a sound engineer who was planning to release a six-song EP containing previously unreleased Prince recordings.  The estate alleged that this engineer, George Ian Boxill, was in unlawful possession of the recordings and did not have authorization to release them or to use Prince’s name and likeness.  Accordingly, the estate sought a temporary restraining order to block the release of these recordings.

The recordings at issues were made by Prince and Boxill in 2006.  Notably, Prince’s estate claims that Boxill had signed an agreement acknowledging that Prince alone owned the recordings and Boxill could not retain or in any way use the recordings. 

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Prince’s home state of Minnesota issued a temporary restraining order preventing Boxill from publishing or otherwise disseminating any unreleased Prince recordings.  Furthermore, the court ordered that Boxill deliver all recordings acquired through his work with Prince to Prince’s estate.

The court’s ruling is one that could be the first of many, as it is merely a temporary restraining order—essentially an emergency ruling made in light of a time-sensitive matter.  Such a ruling was necessary in this case, as the music at issue was set to be released on the anniversary of Prince’s April 21, 2016 death—well before a preliminary injunction hearing could have occurred.  Yet as a form of emergency intervention, the temporary restraining order is purposefully abbreviated, expiring on May 4.

It is likely that Prince’s estate will file a motion for a preliminary injunction—a more permanent remedy to protect the dissemination of the recordings as the parties progress to, and possibly through, trial. 

Not only does Prince’s estate believe such protection is necessary to protect the rights in the late musician’s work, but it also alleges an unauthorized release such as this could jeopardize the estate’s contractual relationship with Universal Music Group, who has been given exclusive publishing rights in any unreleased Prince music.  Conversely, Boxill claims he is merely doing what he can to follow Prince’s expressed desire to “bypass major labels and get his music directly to the public.”

Whether the music will ever actually make it to the public, however, remains to be seen.

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