The Artist threatens to take legal action against sites that celebrate him.
In September, Prince announced that he would sue YouTube, eBay and the BitTorrent sharing site the Pirate Bay because people had posted his copyrighted material there. The lawsuits were never filed (perhaps because they were legally questionable: YouTube is arguably protected by provisions in copyright law that render it immune from liability for what people post to the site, as long as it takes down infringing material promptly).
Now the Artists formerly known as Rational* has issued another broad legal threat: He wants to sue his biggest fans. Three devoted Prince fan sites — www.housequake.com, www.princefams.com and www.prince.org — recently received letters from Prince’s lawyers asking them to take down lyrics, pictures, album cover art and anything else “linked to Prince’s likeness.”
Representatives of the fan sites, who have banded together at Prince Fans United, say they’ll fight Prince’s request. They argue that Prince doesn’t own the copyrights to much of the material he’s asking be taken down — for instance, the fans’ own photographs of the Artist, and their pictures of “their Prince-inspired tattoos and their vehicles displaying Prince-inspired license plates.”
The fans also argue that they have a First Amendment right to display material to which Prince does own the copyrights. “The law clearly provides for displaying of images of a celebrity’s likeness for newsworthy events or matters which are considered to be public interest,” the fans write (they add that the material on their sites “clearly fall within the public interest category.”)
Prince’s fans say they’re prepared to fight him in court. You’d suppose that Prince would back down before the suit ever gets near a courtroom, given the negative publicity that’s sure to attend so boneheaded a move as suing your biggest supporters.
But if it does go down, it’s not at all clear that the fans would win this thing. Do they have a public interest or fair-use right to display Prince’s lyrics? Lyrics-hosting sites have gotten into copyright trouble before, so that would seem a dubious claim. Same goes for cover art and images that Prince owns.
My point is not that the fans are wrong. It’s that the law is. Prince has said that his copyright-lawyering ways are meant to “reclaim the Internet,” but what he really seems to want to do is undo the Internet. The whole business of people being free to say things about him online, beyond his control — out in public for chrissakes! — that seems to rankle Prince, as it does, of course, a lot of others who oppose this whole Web fad.
However this is resolved, that there is even a question about the legality of creating a fan site — that music-biz lawyers feel they can freely threaten people with such broad claims — is itself an illustration of the fundamental incompatibility between Internet culture and the prevailing legal ideas surrounding intellectual property.
Prince won’t manage to undo the Internet, of course, but that he thinks he can is — in addition to a sign that he’s not quite sane — just another signal of the overbroad ideas some in the entertainment business have regarding their hold on the culture. Prince actually believes that he can control a fan’s photograph of her tattoo of her “love symbol”? Doves cry.
*OK, Prince was never known to be “rational.” I was trying to be clever. Maybe you have some ideas? Help me fill in the blank: The Artist Formerly Known As ________.
[Flickr photo of "The Little Prince" tattoo by loran.]
Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society. More Farhad Manjoo.
More Related Stories
- Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina denied parole
- Joe Francis apologizes for calling jury "retarded"
- Mary Karr: David Foster Wallace and I kept each other alive
- Morgan Freeman sleeps during televised interview
- J.J. Abrams reveals deleted shower scene with Benedict Cumberbatch
- Is the anti-gay backlash on?
- Paul McCartney backs Pussy Riot
- Cannes: Ryan Gosling's new movie draws the boo-birds
- Radio host tweets rape joke, blames journalists for reporting on it
- Juror responds to Joe Francis' insults with thoughtful email
- New track from the Lonely Island features Solange Knowles, semicolons
- Amazon introduces fan fiction publishing platform
- Naomi Watts, "Argo," "Wonderstone" among bizarre Teen Choice Awards nominees
- Imprisoned Pussy Riot member declares hunger strike
- The camp-free "Behind the Candelabra"
- Justin Bieber will destroy you if you live-tweet his parties
- Marc Maron on Twitter feud with Michael Ian Black: "We have an understanding"
- "Girls Gone Wild" creator Joe Francis to jury: "You should be euthanized"
- Ai Weiwei releases heavy metal music video
- Actually, Beyoncé is a feminist
- Marc Maron and Michael Ian Black's epic Twitter battle
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11