This week provided yet another reminder to entertainment law practitioners that there is still plenty of work to do even after your clients pass away. On Wednesday, April 19th, 2017 the U.S. District Court in Minnesota issued a temporary restraining order blocking the digital release of a six-song EP entitled “Deliverance” by Prince, who passed away one year ago this week.
The EP was to be released by George Ian Boxill, through independent record label, Rogue Music Alliance, and contains all previously unreleased songs. Boxill was a collaborator with Prince, and producer on the EP songs. Prince’s estate alleges that Boxill violated the terms of a confidentiality agreement with the late singer, which conveyed all rights to the materials they created exclusively to Prince, and provided that Boxill would not use the recordings in any manner.
Boxill and most Prince fans would argue Prince would have wanted to share these unreleased recordings with his fans. However, given the propensity of Prince to demand control and exclusivity over his work, brand, and persona while he was alive, it should not be a surprise that his estate continues to seek protection of those rights after his death. This is notwithstanding likely financial benefits from the sale of this work. We are all aware of Prince’s so-called “vault” of recordings, but so long as his estate maintains his protectionist views over his body of work, we may never hear the fruits of his labor. There is no obligation under copyright law that requires copyright holders to exploit their works, even if there is a high demand for it.
The temporary restraining order on the Deliverance EP expires on May 3, 2017, unless the District Court grants an extension. Only time will tell if we can purchase an EP copy before it goes back into the “vault.”