Last Friday, April 21st, marked the one-year anniversary of Prince’s tragic death. In the year he has been gone, we have seen many vigils, tributes, and fans listening to his most famous songs over and over again in remembrance. Prince’s death was one of hardest hits in a year of copious celebrity deaths, and his name is still in the press today. This time, however, the media attention surrounds some of his unreleased work, and the potentially illegal release of these songs to the public.
When Prince died, his Estate took over management of his music portfolio. They could choose whether to release one of the many songs he had written or recorded but not yet released, or they could decide to keep everything away from the public ear. The Estate has the same rights that Prince had over his music. These rights were violated around last Friday’s anniversary, an act that simultaneously hurt the Estate but thrilled Prince fans everywhere.
On April 21, longtime Prince engineer George Ian Boxill intended to release an EP (a shortened album) of Prince’s music including the title song “Deliverance” and three unreleased songs dating from 2006-2008. When the Estate heard of Boxill’s plan, they filed a lawsuit claiming Boxill had violated a prior written agreement with Prince. According to the statement made by the Estate, Boxhill had agreed that (1) all recordings that he worked on with Prince would remain Prince’s sole and exclusive property; (2) he would not use any recordings or property in any way whatsoever; and (3) he would return any such recordings or property to Prince immediately upon request. Here, the Estate argues that Boxhill violated all three sections.
Boxill counters that since he had both co-writing and co-producing credits with Prince, he could release these songs. He merely finished these songs after the singer’s death. Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright of the United States District Court in Minnesota felt differently. She issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) that stops Boxhill from releasing the music and forces him to return the recordings to the Estate.
So, if you are anxious to listen to some never before heard Prince music, you may be out of luck—as least for now. The legal standard for granting a TRO is that the judge believes, based on what has been presented by the Estate to date, the Estate has a likelihood of prevailing on the merits of their arguments. Judge Wright’s order stays in place until May 3rd. So we will see then whether the public will have some new Prince music to help cope with his loss. In the meantime, the song “Deliverance” is still available as it was previously scheduled for release. The song was not included in the order enjoining the rest of the album.