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Estate of musician Prince’s lawsuit related to release of recordings to continue in Massachusetts, Appeals Court rules


Music legend Prince has been dead for more than six years, but a battle continues to rage over an EP of five gospel-inflected blues tracks that his estate says were wrongfully released a year after his death.

In an 18-page decision, the Massachusetts Appeals Court on Tuesday overturned a Superior Court dismissal of a lawsuit filed against Boston-based entertainment lawyer Christopher L. Brown, who advised his clients to release the Deliverance Recordings EP.

The “Purple Rain” and “When Doves Cry” writer and performer, born as Prince Rogers Nelson, died at 57 years old in his home state of Minnesota in 2016. In the 1990s he legally changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol — he called it “The Love Symbol,” a stylistic fusion of the traditional male and female symbols — allegedly in a feud with his record label at the time, Warner Bros., according to a 2005 Harvard Business Review study.

By the year 2000, Prince had legally changed his name back and was independent of the label. A few years later, between 2004 and 2008, according to Tuesday’s court judgment, he was working with the California sound engineer George Ian Boxill, who goes by Ian, during which he independently recorded the five bluesy tracks that make up the Deliverance recordings: “Deliverance,” “No One Else,” “I Am,” “Touch Me” and “Sunrise Sunset.”

Following Prince’s death, Boxill partnered up with the Washington-based distribution outfit Rogue Music Alliance LLC and retained Brown as an attorney with the intention of releasing the EP.

It’s Brown’s role in the controversy over the release of this recording that is at play in Massachusetts, but other elements of the case have played out in Minnesota and federal court.

According to the decision’s summary of the case, Brown wrote a letter to his clients in July 2016 where he expressed his opinion that Prince and Boxill shared the rights to the song: a 90% stake in publishing rights to the Prince estate and 10% to Boxill with both sides owning equal shares in the master recordings.

He advised the clients to release the EP and pay the estate its fair share of the recordings. His legal services were to be paid off in a percentage of the sales.

Not so fast, declared estate representative Comerica Bank and Trust and Paisley Park Enterprises — a corporation owned by that estate that owns Prince-related copyrights and trademarks and named after the Chanhassen, Minn. home Prince lived in for three decades. They sent Brown a cease-and-desist letter and disputed Boxill’s ownership of any of the recordings.

Brown held firm to his position, according to the case summary in the decision, and advised his clients move forward with the release. The plaintiffs say he didn’t budge in his position even after receiving a 2004 confidentiality agreement signed by Boxill that included provisions that any recordings remained Paisley’s “sole and exclusive property.”

In April 2018, the Prince estate won a breach of contract arbitration claim against Boxill, in which he was found to have broken the 2004 agreement and ordered to pay Paisley more than $3.96 million.

The Appeals Court in Massachusetts held in their Tuesday judgment to reverse the dismissal against Brown because, as a Massachusetts lawyer, Massachusetts does have “the most significant relationship to the assignability of the legal malpractice claim asserted against Attorney Brown and his law firm, (and) Massachusetts law governs the issue.”

FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2007 file photo, Prince performs during the halftime show of the Super Bowl XLI football game at Dolphin Stadium in Miami. L (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)

AP Photo/Chris O’Meara, File

FILE – In this Feb. 4, 2007 file photo, Prince performs during the halftime show of the Super Bowl XLI football game at Dolphin Stadium in Miami. L (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara, File)


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