Prince’s estate is suing rap mogul Jay Z over who has the rights to stream the late superstar’s music.
The ongoing battle has festered for months in Carver County District Court, but on Tuesday, NPG Records Inc., and NPG Music Publishing — Prince’s music entities — escalated it by filing a federal lawsuit alleging copyright infringement against Roc Nation, a multifaceted business started by Shawn C. Carter — Jay Z — which includes Tidal, a music streaming service.
The lawsuit acknowledges that before Prince’s death on April 21, his NPG entered into an agreement with Tidal to stream and sell “the next newly recorded studio LP by the recording artist known as Prince.” The album was “HitNRun: Phase 1.” The letter of intent, dated Aug. 1, 2015, gave Tidal exclusive rights to the material for 90 days, the lawsuit said.
But, the complaint said, Roc Nation, through Tidal, started on June 7, 2016, “exploiting many copyrighted Prince works in addition to the works that comprise the ‘HitNRun: Phase 1’ album.”
The suit said that on Oct. 21, Nov. 7 and Nov. 11, Roc Nation filed documents in Carver County District Court that asserted it had “both oral and written” agreements to exclusively stream Prince’s entire catalog of music on Tidal. But Roc Nation did not provide any documents to support that claim despite numerous written requests to do so, the lawsuit said.
Prince’s estate said Roc Nation continues “to reproduce, distribute and publicly perform” Prince’s music, a copyright infringement.
The lawsuit asks for the issue to be decided by a jury. It also asks that the court order Roc Nation/Tidal to stop streaming and selling Prince’s music other than “HitNRun: Phase 1,” and that Roc Nation be ordered to pay unspecified damages.
Roc Nation did not respond Tuesday to a voicemail message, e-mail or tweet asking for comment.
Prince has recorded more than 35 albums, some of which Tidal was still streaming as of Tuesday.
Billboard.com reported Monday that in July 2015, Prince started pulling all of his music from every streaming service except Tidal, which is known for paying a higher royalty than other services. A month later, he announced that “HitNRun” would be released exclusively on Tidal on Sept. 7.
Then, on Nov. 2, 2016, Universal Music Publishing Group announced it had been named “the exclusive worldwide publishing administrator for Prince’s entire song catalog, released and unreleased, effective immediately.” But in documents filed Friday in Carver County, Tidal said its preexisting contract gave it exclusive streaming distribution rights to Prince’s catalog.
It was not clear Tuesday what would happen to those rights now that a federal lawsuit is in the works.
Pat Pheifer • 612-673-7252