In the ever-evolving music industry, hip-hop mogul Jay-Z Carter and deceased music legend Prince remain powerhouse influences behind some of the most iconic tracks of our era. However recent lawsuits filed by Tidal (a branch of Jay-Z’s RocNation umbrella) and countersuit filed by NPG Records (formerly owned by the late singer) suggest the two record companies may be at war over exclusivity rights to Prince’s songs.

However this isn’t the first controversy that streaming services such as Tidal have been embroiled in this year. With the recent increase in exclusive releases, industry giant Universal Music made the landmark decision earlier this year to officially ban the practice of exclusive distribution with streaming services. This decision was made following the controversial release of Frank Ocean’s Blonde which saw traditional record labels battle with new and emerging streaming services for control of the market share.

Background

On the anniversary of the singer’s birthday in June this year, Tidal released 15 of Prince’s albums prompting NPG Records to file a lawsuit in the United States District Court in Minnesota for copyright infringement. The lawsuit claims that although Tidal was authorised to offer a few select songs on its streaming service, Tidal had decided to offer entire albums of songs that were not authorised or approved by Prince’s estate trust.

Additionally, it asserts that aside from the album HITNRUN Phase 1, no other arrangements had been made with Tidal to authorise any other albums or works. Prior to his death, Prince had also removed his songs from other streaming services in what appeared to be a bid to increase streaming rates. This is contested by RocNation who maintain that they hold exclusive streaming rights to all of his songs.

Legal Action

The claim filed by NPG Records is seeking damages for the intellectual property infringement, alleging that RocNation has exploited the singer’s works without approval. Critically, the legal battle will rest heavily on the terms of the arrangement between the deceased artist and Tidal and whether an ‘exclusive right’ was granted to the streaming service.

If the Court finds in favour of these claims, Tidal and RocNation could face millions in damages and subsequently set a precedent that may significantly impact the future of ‘exclusive’ streaming. Given the current competition in the industry, the weight of this judicial decision could significantly influence the balance of power between traditional record labels and streaming services.

What next?

The case between Prince and Jay Z will explore the contractual arrangements and relationships that artists, record labels and streaming services share. As the music landscape continues to shift, the legality of ‘exclusive rights’ will need further judicial clarification.

If you have an intellectual property dispute, LawPath’s experienced intellectual property attorneys can advise you on the best course of action.

What are your thoughts on this battle? Let us know by tagging us @Lawpath.

Jennifer Wang

Jennifer is a Paralegal, working in our content team, which aims to provide free legal guides to facilitate public access to legal resources. With a keen interest in media and IP law, her research focuses on the evolving role of the law to navigate new and emerging information platforms.