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Deal Over Prince's Legendary Vault Now Being Investigated

The estate of Prince Rogers Nelson remains a bed of thorns, in some ways. A $30 million deal between Universal Music Group and Prince's NPG Records, being overseen by his estate, is now the subject of a special investigation into whether it should be cancelled outright, according to documents filed today in Minnesota.

The deal, to license and distribute some of Prince's famed vault of unreleased recordings, was first announced in February after being brokered by Charles Koppelman and L. Londell McMillan, who were named as entertainment advisors to the estate in June 2016 (they were later replaced by Troy Carter, the former manager of Lady Gaga and a current executive at Spotify). Not long after its announcement, however, problems began to appear, dribbling out due to a contract that Prince signed with Warner Bros. Records in 2014 in which many specifics were left hazy.

Universal claimed it had been misled as to what it was purchasing, and not long after requested its deal be canceled, writing in a letter to the court that "the material misrepresentations and nondisclosures made by the Estate's prior representatives [McMillan and Koppelman] to induce UMG to enter a deal that was immediately contested by WBR" meant the arrangement should be nullified.

McMillan responded that canceling the deal would cost Prince's estate a large chunk of money, since re-signing a similar licensing deal would result in a much lower price tag following all the confusion, and that it could empower Warner Bros. Records to wield that 2014 agreement like a guillotine over future deals. In a filing, lawyers for McMillan also point out that the type of uncertainty at issue was "built into the contract."

And so enters St. Paul-based attorney Peter J. Gleekel, who will be given broad authority — "the power to compel and take evidence from parties and non-parties" — in investigating the dispute between the estate, Universal, Warner Bros., Koppelman and McMillan. Gleekel — who stands to make $430 per hour, according to court filings — has until Dec. 15 to complete his review.

After that, it remains a certainty that a lawsuit from Universal would come quickly after if the deal isn't rescinded. If it isn't, Warner Bros. or the estate could instead. We'll find out shortly before the new year.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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