Prince's Estate Versus Morris Day: Whatever Happened With All That?

A year after Morris Day accused the Prince estate of trying to "rewrite history" by "taking my name away," it appears that the ugly dispute over his band name has been worked out. But Day's attorney tells Billboard that other key issues with the estate remain unresolved.

Last year's outcry was prompted by a threat letter in which attorneys for the estate complained about Day's efforts to own the trademark registration "Morris Day and The Time" - the name of the Prince-affiliated band he's led for years. In it, they told him he had "no right" to use the name "in any form."



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That dispute now appears to be in the rearview mirror. In December, the federal trademark office formally published Day's application for such a trademark registration. At that point, the Prince estate had 30 days to file an opposition case against him, but records show it did not do so.

The progress is perhaps unsurprising, given the change in the control of the Prince estate that has taken place in the year since Day's complaints.

Last year's threat letter came from Comerica, a court-appointed bank that administered the estate during a years-long legal battle. With that case finally closed, the Prince estate is now in the hands of its permanent stewards: industry bigwig Primary Wave on the one hand, and a group of heirs and advisors led by longtime Prince attorney Londell McMillan on the other in what amounts to a 50-50 split. And during last year's fracas, both Primary Wave and McMillan voiced public support for Day.

Day and Prince were frequent collaborators in the early 1980s. Day was the lead singer of The Time, a group known for their high-octane funk; Prince wrote and produced much of their music under an alias. They toured together, and The Time appeared prominently as Prince's rival band in the 1984 film Purple Rain. In a 1990 interview, Prince said The Time was "the only band I've ever been afraid of."


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In December 2021, attorneys for the estate sent a letter to Day over the trademark registration on "Morris Day and The Time," a name he had continued to use on tours for decades. They warned him that it violated a 1982 written agreement in which Day allegedly agreed that Prince's company would retain all rights to the band's name. Unless Day reached a deal with the estate, the attorneys said they would file a formal case against him at the federal trademark office.

A few months later, Day spoke out publicly about the dispute, saying he had "spent 40 years of my life" building the name and that Prince had had "no problem" with him using it. "Now that Prince is no longer with us, suddenly, the people who control his multi million dollar estate want to rewrite history by taking my name away from me, thus impacting how I feed my family," Day wrote in a social media post.

Day's post quickly sparked outrage against Comerica. Former Prince bassist Nik West took to Instagram to complain: "I don't see how 'randoms' can tell you this! Morris Day and the Time forever ... we ALL know what time it is!" Primary Wave, which at that point was not yet in control of the estate, quickly joined the chorus of critics, telling Comerica to "do the right thing here."

Now, a year later, Day's trademark application is advancing, and his attorney Richard Jefferson tells Billboard that he and his client are optimistic that "things will be amicable moving forward." But despite the headway on the "Time" name, Jefferson says they're still working to resolve broader issues with the Prince estate.



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"All I can say at this point is that we are making progress," he said in an email. "The trademark is only one of a few issues at play."

Case in point: Public records show that Day is also currently seeking to regain his ownership rights to two of The Time's biggest songs using copyright law's so-called termination right - a provision that allows creators to win back control of works that they sold away decades earlier.

In June, Day's attorneys submitted formal notice that he planned to terminate the estate's control over his songwriting stakes in "Jungle Love," which hit No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100, and "The Bird," which reached No. 36 on the chart. Both songs also appeared prominently in Purple Rain.

If the termination process is completed, Day would recover a 50% share of the "Jungle Love" composition and a 33 percent stake in "The Bird" composition, according to the filings. The remaining shares of those songs, originally owned by Prince, would still be owned by the estate. But in practice, such filings are often simply a starting point, leading to a renegotiation of rights deals rather than an outright termination.

Representatives for both halves of the Prince estate did not return requests for comment.


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