Prince Returns to Warner Bros. Records After 18 Years

Prince PR Image B/W - H 2014
Courtesy NPG Music Publishing

Prince PR Image B/W - H 2014

The artist had a turbulent split from the label in 1996, changing his name to an unpronouncable symbol and calling himself a slave to the company.

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Prince has returned to Warner Bros. Records after 18 years with a deal that will see him regain ownership of his catalog. His classic Warner albums like Dirty Mind, Controversy and 1999 will continue to be licensed through Warner Bros. as part of a new global agreement.

As part of the deal, Prince's classic Purple Rain album will be re-released in a remastered deluxe version in time for the 30th anniversary of the album and movie. Other planned re-issue projects will follow, and Prince will issue a new album too, although it is unclear if that title is a part of the deal.

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"A brand-new studio album is on the way and both Warner Bros. Records and Eye (sic) are quite pleased with the results of the negotiations and look forward to a fruitful working relationship," Prince said in a statement.

Prince famously had a highly publicized and turbulent split from Warner Bros. in 1996 when he called himself a slave to the label, changed his name to a symbol and condemned the way the major label system worked. This deal marks a new era, as the ability to terminate master recording copyright after 35 years was granted in the Copyright Revision Act of 1976 and became effective in 1978, the year that Prince's debut album came out.

As 2013 loomed, record label executives and artists managers said that they were unsure how copyright terminations and ownership reversions would play out, as they expected a precedent-setting court case to decide whether the "work-for-hire" clause in standard recording contracts could successfully be challenged by artists. Works created under work-for-hire contracts are not eligible for copyright reversion. But privately, some label executives have also said that in some instances the wiser course might be to negotiate the reversions and retain control of issuing artists' catalog eligible for copyright terminations.

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In cutting what appears to be a landmark deal, Prince has chosen to remain with the label that was the subject of his ire back in the 1990s, avoiding a risky and costly legal battle, and still regains ownership of his catalog.

Financial terms and length of the licensing deal were not disclosed, nor does the announcement clarify whether the artist is gaining ownership of his catalog all at once or, more likely, as each album becomes eligible for copyright termination.

The Warner Music Group declined to provide further comment on the details of the deal. But Warner Bros. Records chairman and CEO Cameron Strang said in a statement: "Everyone at Warner Bros. Records is delighted to be working with Prince once again: He is one of the world's biggest stars and a truly unique talent. We are also very excited about the release of new and re-mastered music from one of his greatest masterpieces."