Prince Regains Ownership of Catalog in Deal with Warner Bros.
Few people that remember the nasty split between Prince and Warner Bros. Records in the mid-1990s would have thought any reconciliation would be possible. However, a new contract announced Friday, April 18th reunites the superstar recording artist with his former record label.
Prince famously spoke out against the recording industry in the 1990s, calling himself a “slave” to Warner Bros., and decrying the way the music industry operated. He ultimately split from the label in 1996 and changed his name to a symbol, subsequently being referred to as “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.”
Now, 18 years later, the two sides have struck a landmark deal that has major impact on the future of copyright ownership. As part of the deal, the albums “Dirty Mind,” “Controversy,” and “1999” that were released by Warner Bros. will continue to be licensed through the record label worldwide. Additionally, “Purple Rain” will be re-mastered and re-released in a deluxe version for the 30th anniversary of the original release of the classic album and movie. Other Prince material will also be re-issued as part of the deal. Since the inception of Nielsen SoundScan in 1991, Prince albums have scanned 18.5 million units in the United States, with his Warner Bros. catalog accounting for 14.3 million units sold. In addition to the re-release of old Prince material, the artist also announced that he will be releasing a new studio album, although it is not clear if the new album is part of the new deal with Warners.
The deal takes on special significance because of the potential copyright issues it appears to solve. The Copyright Revision Act of 1976, which became effective in 1978, provided for the ability to terminate the master recording copyright 35 years after it was initially granted. Under standard recording contracts, artists are bound by “work-for-hire” clauses, which means that the work created under these contracts are not eligible for copyright reversion. Previously, industry insiders expected artists to challenge these clauses in court, and were unsure how the issue would be decided until a judge ruled on the matter. An alternative to potentially lengthy and expensive court cases would be for artists and labels to negotiate the reversions and ownership of catalogs.
Prince has elected to go with the latter option. Prince’s deal sees him not only re-sign with Warner Bros., but also regain ownership of his catalog, while licensing the music to the label. Neither the financial terms of the contract, nor other specific terms were disclosed at the time of the announcement, so it remains unclear whether Prince will regain ownership of his music immediately or as the music becomes eligible for copyright termination. His first album, released in 1978, is already eligible for copyright termination under the Copyright Revision Act, with subsequent releases becoming eligible in the near future.