Minnesota judge cancels Universal deal with Prince estate

FILE - In this Feb. 18, 1985 file photo, Prince performs at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. A Minnesota judge has ruled Thursday, July 13, 2017, that Universal Music Group should be released from a music rights deal with Prince's estate. Universal struck a deal with the estate in January, but the estate later sought to cancel the deal after Warner Bros. Records claimed it conflicted with a contract it signed with Prince in 2014. (AP Photo/Liu Heung Shing, File)

MINNEAPOLIS — A Minnesota judge ruled Thursday that Universal Music Group should be released from a music rights deal with Prince's estate.

Universal struck a deal with the estate in January, but the estate later sought to cancel the deal after Warner Bros. Records claimed it conflicted with a contract it signed with Prince in 2014.

Carver County District Judge Kevin Eide granted the estate's request in a ruling late Thursday. The judge wrote that interpreting the contracts is difficult, and it's in the best interest of the estate to avoid costly litigation that could result if the deal isn't canceled.

"As previously noted, this Court believes that the Estate must proceed in a cautious manner to preserve the assets of the Estate," Eide wrote. He said while rescinding the Universal agreement "may certainly be seen as proceeding with a lack of caution, the Court believes that the other option of long and potentially expensive litigation while tying up the music rights owned by the Estate makes the other option more treacherous."

The judge said he allowed Universal Music Group's attorneys to see the Warner Bros. Records agreements, which contain a confidentiality clause, to try to resolve the conflict. But attorneys for Universal Music Group filed a letter last month saying their review only confirmed that Universal should be released, Eide wrote.

Eide noted that it has been suggested Universal is bluffing and would not really file a lawsuit in California if he did not rescind the contract. But based on the letter from Universal's attorneys, "this does not appear to be a bluff," the judge wrote.

Prince died of an accidental opioid overdose last year. In May, Eide confirmed Prince's six siblings to be his rightful heirs, bringing them a big step closer to collecting their shares of the megastar's multimillion-dollar estate.

In a joint statement Thursday night, Universal and Prince's estate said they "welcome the court's approval of our amicable resolution to this matter."

Corporate publicist James Steven said Warner Music Group had no comment on the ruling.

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