Prince is said to have enough unreleased songs to make a new album every year for the next century; but in the wake of the singer's death, fans are questioning if it's music they will ever be allowed to hear.

As well as dozens of world famous albums, the late artist leaves behind a treasure trove of as many as 2,000 songs and music videos in a vault in the basement of his Paisley Park estate.

"It's an actual bank vault, with a thick door," said Susan Rogers, Prince's former sound engineer, who said the locked away songs include some of his finest ever works.

Prince was known in life as fiercely determined to protect his intellectual property, but how well others might profit from his legacy hinges on how astute he was about setting laws for the use of his music in the future.


His sudden death at the age of 57 at his studio compound in Minnesota on Thursday, has led to mounting speculation about whether the recording artist has left behind a plan for the handling of his affairs.

"Who knows if he even has a will?" said Lee Phillips, an attorney who represented the singer when he made his blockbuster film Purple Rain. "He was a unique person."

Ownership of the unreleased music collection "will go to whoever inherits it from his estate", according to Jay Cooper, a Los Angeles-based entertainment lawyer. Twice divorced with no surviving children, Prince lacks any immediately identifiable heirs. Some have suggested he may leave part of his $300 million estate to the Jehovah's Witnesses church he attended for nearly 15 years close to his home.

Without a will, the inheritance would be determined by a probate court, subject to the laws of succession in Prince's home state of Minnesota, Mr Cooper said.

By that account, the estate could fall to Tyka Nelson, Prince's only full sibling. Ms Nelson, who yesterday told fans her brother "loved you all" is also a musician. She and Prince collaborated on songs together in the early days of their careers.

At stake is Prince's 39 studio albums that have sold over 36 million copies in the United State alone since 1978, plus the thousands of songs that remain unreleased in his vaults.

So assertive was Prince in protecting ownership rights of the music he did release that during a bitter contract with Warner Bros. he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and scrawled the word "slave" on his forehead in performances.