A judge on Thursday rescinded Universal Music’s $31 million deal for unreleased work of late pop icon Prince after the world’s largest label group said it was misled by his estate.
The voiding of the deal which is highly unusual for such a high-profile contract is the latest drama over Prince’s catalog since the “Purple Rain” star died suddenly without a will in April 2016.
A judge in Minnesota steered clear of deciding the merits of the dispute but said that Prince’s estate could ill-afford the lengthy court battle that could transpire if the Universal contract went forward.
“This court believes that the estate must proceed in a cautious manner to preserve the assets of the estate,” said Kevin Eide, a judge in Carver County where Prince died at his secluded Paisley Park studio-estate.
While voiding a contract may not sound like a cautious move, “the court believes that the other option of long and potentially expensive litigation while tying up the music rights owned by the estate makes the other option more treacherous,” he said in a written ruling.
Universal had announced in February that it had secured rights to Prince’s catalog starting in the mid-1990s when he bitterly exited rival label Warner as well as unspecified recordings from earlier during Prince’s commercial peak.
Comerica Bank and Trust, which administers the estate, conceded that Universal may have bought recordings that overlapped with Warner’s assets and had agreed in May to rescind the deal.
But the judge heard objections from L. Londell McMillan, who negotiated the deal when he was an adviser to the estate and still enjoys support of three of Prince’s six siblings recognized in May as his rightful heirs.
McMillan, who was Prince’s longtime lawyer and earned a commission from the deal, said that Universal had carefully reviewed the contract and that it remained enforceable.