Roc Nation, Tidal Challenge the Authority of the Administrator of Prince's Estate

Prince GETTY - H 2016
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As the estate of Prince negotiates to put the late musician's greatest hits on major streaming outlets in time for the Grammy's, Jay Z-affiliated companies Roc Nation and Tidal-owner Aspiro are raising doubts about the ability of administrator Bremer Trust to make moves on Prince's song catalog.

In November, on behalf of Prince's NPG Records, Bremer Trust filed a lawsuit against Roc Nation and Aspiro, alleging that Tidal was only given an exclusive 90-day license for a newly recorded studio album titled Hit n Run, and that Tidal had committed copyright infringement by putting 15 Prince albums up on the streaming service.

Aspiro, first in probate court and now in a Minnesota federal court, is suggesting that it got more in both a written agreement and oral deals, and on Monday, it filed an answer to the lawsuit. As did Roc Nation, which according to a separate filing, is 50 percent owned by Live Nation with the rest controlled by Jay Z-affiliated Marcy Media. (Back in 2008, it was reported that Live Nation was putting up tens of millions to partner with Jay Z on Roc Nation, but its specific ownership stake has remained murky until now.)

Among the affirmative defenses to the lawsuit being raised are that NPG Records lacks valid copyright registrations and has committed copyright misuse. Aspiro also believes that claims may be barred because Bremer "lacks the requisite authority to authorize the instant lawsuit" and because "Plaintiffs are not the real parties in interest with respect to the claims asserted."

The filing comes amid news that representatives for Prince's estate are negotiating distribution deals with the likes of Apple and Spotify. Deals are hoped for in time for the Feb. 17 Grammy's, which will feature a major tribute to Prince.

In a November probate filing, Roc Nation hinted that deals with other streaming outlets could be a violation of its own rights. At the moment, neither Roc Nation nor Aspiro are asserting counterclaims, but both are sticking to the contention that Tidal was licensed or authorized to stream Prince's works.

According to yesterday's filing, "With the long-established course of dealing, between Mr. Nelson [Prince] and Aspiro, Plaintiffs were fully aware that Aspiro would proceed to offer Mr. Nelson’s works based on his promises and Plaintiffs reasonably expected or should have expected Aspiro to rely on those promises and to expend time, effort and money to bring Mr. Nelson’s works to the public. Acting in accordance with the long-established course of dealing, Aspiro justifiably relied on those promises."