Who Owns the Streaming Rights to Prince’s Music?

Roc Nation, a full-service entertainment company founded by American rap artist Shawn “Jay Z” Carter, is being sued for copyright infringement by NPG Records and NPG Music Publishing, companies that were founded by Prince. The lawsuit alleges that, without receiving permission, Roc Nation uploaded 15 Prince albums on Tidal, a music streaming platform that is also owned and operated by Jay Z.

Although Prince and Jay Z struck a deal in 2015 regarding particular streaming rights of Prince’s music on Tidal, the NPG complaint alleges that the deal only included the exclusive streaming rights to Prince’s album “Hit N Run: Phase One” for a 90-day term. Roc Nation filed a response to the complaint, alleging that Prince granted Roc Nation with the worldwide digital streaming rights to the entire catalogue of Prince’s music, including previously unreleased recordings, in 2015. Roc Nation has not, however, produced any documentation or evidence of any such agreement between it and Prince or NPG.

It has been reported that Prince’s estate includes a significant cache of unreleased music potentially worth a vast sum of money, and that Jay Z was actively negotiating the purchase of the vault. Since Prince fought adamantly to protect all of his intellectual property from streaming services for much of his life, the lawsuit may seem peculiar to those familiar with the musician’s legacy. But, in 2015, Prince issued the following statement regarding his potential partnership with Jay Z: “After one meeting, it was obvious that Jay Z and the team he has assembled at TIDAL recognize and applaud the effort that real musicians put in2 their craft 2 achieve the very best they can at this pivotal time in the music industry. Tidal have honored Us with a non-restrictive arrangement that once again allows Us to continue making art in the fashion We’ve grown accustomed 2 and We’re Extremely grateful 4 their generous support.” This isn’t the first-time that Jay Z has had to defend himself against copyright infringement.

If you’re an avid follower of our blog, then you’ll remember that the descendants of the late Egyptian composer Baligh Hamdi claimed that Jay Z used a musical sample without permission for his 1999 chart-topping song “Big Pimpin’.” In 2015, after an eight-year legal battle, a federal judge dismissed the case, ruling that Hamdi’s descendants lacked the standing to pursue the copyright infringement claim.