“Once [Prince] created it,” says Mike Carrier, a law professor at Rutgers, “it was fixed. It wasn’t just in his head. He didn’t just sing it once; he recorded it.” Still, no one knows who owns those copyrights now. Given his history with, and distrust of, the music industry, Prince’s heir or heirs may well fully own the recordings. Copyright lasts the life of the artist, plus 70 years.
(Mark your calendars for 2086, when Purple Rain enters the public domain.)
But “copyright is so much more about contracts, than it is about federal policy,” Vaidhyanathan says. “A copyright holder has tremendous power over what happens, how it’s released to the world.” We can’t say anything for sure so soon after his death, when so much remains unknown, but we can speculate. So let’s speculate.