Prince didn’t just leave behind a treasure-trove of unreleased recordings and unpublished music — the prolific musician also left behind quite a mess for his estate administrators to sort out.
Just about everyone who ever had a hand in Prince’s career while the artist was alive seems to want to benefit from his posthumous career as well. The grief demonstrated by fans all across the world indicates that his career — unlike his tragically short life — is far from over.
The lawsuits over the intellectual property rights to what he left behind have already begun. A album previously unpublished music was supposed to be released on the one-year anniversary of his death. That’s now stalled in the wake of a federal lawsuit against the music producer involved.
Paisley Park Enterprises, which has primary control over the music legend’s estate, alleges that the engineer held onto five songs illegally, violating the contract he had with the late singer. Prince’s copyright on his original work automatically survives his death. Releasing the music without the estate’s consent would be a violation of the law — and it could damage the value of the estate.
Estate administrators, when left without a specific will to guide them, have to try to maximize the value of the estate. This isn’t just to benefit the heirs of the deceased — it also benefits the government. The estates of those who die without a will are subject to heavy federal taxes so the government has an invested interest in what happens to the estate as well.
With artistic legends like Prince, it isn’t uncommon for their estate to grow in value over time. For example, musician David Bowie’s final album topped the music charts. Michael Jackson’s estate, which was once thought to be heavily in debt, has made around $1 billion since his death.
Administration of an estate belonging to any type of artist, musician or writer can become a complicated undertaking, simply because anything associated with him or her could have the potential to make money. It isn’t uncommon for the value of his or her work to actually increase following his or her death. If you need help sorting through a complex estate and figuring out how to handle the deceased’s posthumous career, an attorney today can help.
Source: The Washington Post, “The battle over Prince’s posthumous career is just beginning,” Elahe Izadi, April 19, 2017