No sooner was the news out about Prince’s passing than the conspiracy theories began flying about the Internet. Prince was a drug addict. Prince had been up for six days straight. Prince was meat-eating vegan. Prince was a strict Jehovah’s Witness who wasn’t a strict Jehovah’s witness.
One of the wildest conspiracy theories was that just days after getting back the rights to his own music, his label put a hit out on him.
Now, that’s a great storyline for a fictional story, and if someone wrote the story of a fictional music icon being bumped off by a fictional music label to regain control of the fictional music catalogue, there would be a lot of people pointing out that the premise was severely flawed.
I’ll be keeping the details to a minimum to keep the explanation streamlined.
The traditional songwriter and publisher agreement splits mechanical royalties fifty-fifty with fifty percent paid to the songwriter and fifty percent paid to the publisher. Straightforward and simple.
The traditional recording artist agreement is considerably more complicated for many reasons, most of which are tied to upfront costs underwritten by the label which must be recouped by the label before the recording artist sees a profit. When all is said and done, recording artists generally negotiate a royalty of between ten and twenty-five percent.
The traditional singer-songwriter recording artist agreement has a controlled composition clause because the traditional songwriter and publisher clause isn’t a recoupable expense (meaning the label can’t deduct expenses from those royalties because they aren’t the label’s royalties to deduct from).
There are performance royalties that are under the watchful eyes of performing rights associations in every country … provided the song is properly registered and provided that the song plays in certain specific situations. For example, a theme song written for a college radio station isn’t going to garner the songwriter any royalties at all. But generally speaking, most places where music is played or heard have paid to have a licensing fee that grants them permission to play music on location (and where said royalties are paid out to the copyright owners).
Of course, Internet music and streaming services get away with paying next to nothing for the music they serve up to consumers.
Prince signed on with Warner Bros. Records when he was 19 (back in early 1976). He split from Warner Bros. Records when he was 40 (back in 1998) and signed with Arista Records in 1999. Warner Bros. Records retains their part of the copyrights to Prince’s music that was recorded between 1976 and 1998 (as was their right).
In 2000, Prince’s publishing contract with Warner/Chappel expired, and the music he wrote after the expiry of his publishing contract was no longer tied to Warner Bros. in any way.
Four years later, in 2005, Prince signed with Universal Records.
Fast forward to early 2014, and not only did Prince regain full copyright ownership to his music that had been with Warner Bros. Records, but he signed back on with the label. The Copyright Revision Act of 1976 established a clause for termination of master recording copyright, and Prince was in possession of a hundred percent of his music that had previously been with Warner Bros. Records.
Prince didn’t regain control of his catalogue because of courtroom wranglings between his legal team and Warner Bros. Records’s legal team. He regained control of his catalogue thanks to a legal determination made with regards to the Copyright Act.
Now that Prince has passed, royalties will be paid to his estate.
Contrary to what some conspiracy theorists are claiming, the royalties don’t re-revert to Warner Bros. Records. Claiming that Warner Bros. Records put out a hit on Prince so they could get that revenue stream back under their control is not only ridiculous, but not legally possible.
Perhaps it’s time people learned to just leave people alone when they pass, and stop trying to create hysterical conspiracy theories about why they died. I’d be willing to bet that Prince would have appreciated a quieter send-off than the one created by those who like to spin tall tales.
WHO WILL CONTROL PRINCE’S CATALOG OF HIT SONGS
SOURCE CLAIMS PRINCE WAS MURDERED FOR WINNING THE RIGHTS TO HIS OWN MUSIC
PRINCE MAY HAVE KNOWN HIS DEATH WAS NEAR
PRINCE: CASH-STRAPPED DURING LIFE
PRINCE GAINS HIS CATALOG IN LANDMARK DEAL WITH WARNER BROS.
PRINCE’S CONTRACT TIFF IS A MAZE OF NUMBERS
PRINCE’S BEHIND-SCENES BANKABILITY
A KING’S RANSOM FOR PRINCE: ARTIST SIGNS RECORD $100-MILLION CONTRACT WITH WARNER