Prince Hailed as One of the Worst Copyright Abusers of All Time…

The following comes from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which recently awarded Prince with its ‘Raspberry Beret Lifetime Aggrievement Award’ for monumental achievements in copyright abuse.

purpleknife

 

MAY 7, 2013 | BY PARKER HIGGINS

“Prince Inducted Into Takedown Hall of Shame With New Lifetime Aggrievement Award”

In the 15 years since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was passed into law, we’ve seen all sorts of abuse and unintended consequences stemming from its more lopsided clauses. The safe harbors it creates for Internet service providers have provided useful protections for service providers, but the takedown process it authorizes makes it too easy for bad actors to shut down legitimate speech, from personal home videos to political commentary.

From time to time, we’ve named (and shamed) some of the worst abusers of the takedown process in our Takedown Hall of Shame. But every once in a while a history of attempts to silence speech is so extraordinary, so truly ridiculous, that an entry in the Hall of Shame is not dishonor enough.

Today we establish the Raspberry Beret Lifetime Aggrievement Award for extraordinary abuses of the takedown process in the name of silencing speech. And we’re proud to bestow the inaugural title on the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince himself.

Prince is far from alone in his willingness to exploit the notice-and-takedown procedure for censorship, but he certainly occupies a special place in the pantheon. Here are some of the most egregious examples of Prince partying like it’s 1998 — the year the DMCA went into effect.

This Is What It Sounds Like When Fair Use Cries

From his palace at Paisley Park, the Purple One has propelled himself into the headlines most recently for issuing the first known takedown notices for videos on the Vine platform.  Vine videos are limited to six seconds, and usually consist of a series of very short shots edited together.  Prince’s NPG Records sent eight notices to the Twitter-owned service for videos from a single user who uploaded them at a Prince concert.  Many cases of fair use are quite easy to spot, but this one is almost embarrassingly so: a transformative and very short clip of a concert performance that doesn’t cause any market harm.

But that didn’t stop Prince from shooting first and hoping nobody asks questions later.

Coachella Controversy

While it may look like a sign of the times that Prince demanded these short concert clips be removed, it’s not even the first time he’s attempted to overreach in taking down concert footage.  In 2008, Prince went one step further, sending a rash of takedowns for fan videos shot of his performance of the Radiohead song “Creep” at the Coachella Music Festival.

Just one problem: Prince doesn’t even own a copyright that could be infringed in any of those uploaded recordings.  Copyright only goes to the person who actually makes a fixed expression of an idea.  That means members of Radiohead, as the songwriters, hold the copyright in the composition, and the fans making the recording hold the copyright in the videos.  Prince is left just trying to hold control over the way people share their experiences.

Fortunately, Radiohead realized the problem and told YouTube to keep the videos up.  But most of the time the victims of online copyright bullying don’t get the same protection.

Let’s Go Crazy (Over 29 Seconds of Home Video … For Six Years)

But perhaps Prince’s craziest act of DMCA abuse is the infamous takedown of the dancing baby video at the heart of the ongoing Lenz v. Universal.  The story may by now sound familiar: Stephanie Lenz shot some 29 seconds of video of her baby son dancing to a grainy version of the Prince song “Let’s Go Crazy” in the background.  Universal Music, which represented Prince, sent a takedown notice and had the dancing baby taken offline for weeks.

We’ve already inducted Universal Music into the Hall of Shame for their role in that particular takedown, but Prince deserves a special mention.

Prince has shown time and again that he’s willing to abuse copyright law in an attempt to recklessly impede free speech, but his role in the Lenz case cements this Lifetime Aggrievement Award.

Article and image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution License.  

30 Responses

  1. Visitor
    Visitor

    “In the 15 years since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was passed into law, we’ve seen all sorts of abuse”

    And nobody has abused the system more than your beloved Google!

    Reply
  2. Copyright Lawyer
    Copyright Lawyer

    “and the fans making the recording hold the copyright in the videos.”
    That is incorrect. If it is an unauthorized fixation, then it is not a copyrightable work.
    Of course I am assuming that Prince did not authorize fixation of his performance.

    Reply
    • Visitor
      Visitor

      “That is incorrect. If it is an unauthorized fixation, then it is not a copyrightable work.”
      Yeah, this is unbelievable…

      Reply
  3. Visitor
    Visitor

    Paul, why don’t you give the Pirate Bay a soapbox, too?
    Couldn’t possibly be worse than this dude…

    Reply
    • Paul Resnikoff
      Paul Resnikoff

      If the Pirate Bay offered a meaningful piece that furthered the discussion and debate, they’d be on these pages.
      Or, should I check and make sure you agree with it first?

      Reply
  4. Visitor
    Visitor

    “Prince has shown time and again that he’s willing to abuse copyright law in an attempt to recklessly impede free speech”
    Could you please explain why removing an illegally uploaded copy of his own property is related to free speech?
    Try to be as specific as possible.

    Reply
    • Mark
      Mark

      If you read the article very carefully, you will see that the complaints being made against Prince are not that he demanded the takedown of illegally uploaded material, but that he demanded the takedown of legally uploaded material. Those missing two letters (“i” and “l”) make all the difference.

      Reply
      • Visitor
        Visitor

        Not sure what you’re talking about…
        Here is NPG’s takedown notice, listing 8 illegally uploaded copies of Prince’s property:
        http://chillingeffects.org/dmca512c/notice.cgi?NoticeID=882061
        Again:
        Could EFF please explain why removing illegally uploaded copies of Prince’s own property is related to free speech? 🙂
        Nobody has the right to copy and publish Prince’s Intellectual Property, except Prince/third parties licensed by Prince.
        Not 6 1/2 hours; not 6 1/2 minutes, not 6 1/2 seconds.
        Now, EFF may have all kinds of opinions about what constitutes Fair Use.
        None of them are relevant here.

        Reply
  5. FarePlay
    FarePlay

    Prince, we need to put him on our list for artists who actively protect themselves.
    I’ll put this writer and the EFF on another list.

    Reply
    • Visitor
      Visitor

      “Prince, we need to put him on our list for artists who actively protect themselves.”
      Indeed.
      And by protecting themselves, they also protect all other musicians, writers, designers, inventors and movie people across the world.

      Reply
    • Visitor
      Visitor

      Unfortunatley the purple one has indeed crossed the line but not just on the internet. He despises cover recordings of his songs (and Gene Simmons once did) and will go to any lengths (legal or otherwise) in an attempt to supress those recorings (as Gene Simmons once did).

      The law should be used appropriately and fairly, neither to be used lightly or misused.

      Also, point well made that perhaps no single company has abused the DMCA more than Google. This issue certianly cuts both ways.

      Reply
      • Another Visitor
        Another Visitor

        Read an Interview with Weird Al. He asks permission to make his parody songs (not sure if he is legally required if it’s parody?).
        He said Prince was one of the few to flatly refuse and threatened legal action if he did.

        Reply
  6. Visitor
    Visitor

    “Why do people feel they have to take credit for everything they do? Ego, that’s the only reason.” –Prince

    Reply
    • Visitor
      Visitor

      It’s hilarious to see how their Chilling Effects shame-game project is backfiring.
      Back in the day, it definitely worked:
      The few artists who were aware they had the right to take down stolen versions of their property often didn’t have the courage to do so because EFF/Chilling Effects/Google published the takedown notices.
      But times have definitely changed, and EFF may very well lose their war against music and musicians:
      Everybody and their dog knows about takedown notices by now — because of EFF/Chilling Effects/Google.
      Result?
      Nobody cares anymore!
      So the number of DMCA takedowns is absolutely exploding. 🙂

      Reply
  7. me
    me

    I’m no big fan of Prince, but it is his music , just like if i make shoes, I expect you to pay for them if you want them, if not leave them alone !

    Reply
  8. jon
    jon

    If he controls the copyright, it is his right to protect it. The EFF is a lobbying organization, just like the NRA. They really should have no voice in this.

    Reply
    • Visitor
      Visitor

      “The EFF is a lobbying organization, just like the NRA”
      And just like NRA, they constantly support the bad guys.
      No wonder they’re so popular among criminals.
      What would pedophiles, pirates and drug dealers do without Tor (heavily endorsed by EFF)?
      There’s no doubt they feel threatened by the new anti-piracy trend we see everywhere at the moment…

      Reply
    • Econ
      Econ

      “…should have no voice…”
      So you don’t like the right of assembly as guaranteed in the Constitution? The whole point of the right to assembly is to petition the government. You and your buddies can certainly petition the government to remove that from the Constitution via the amendment process if you’d like.
      You can disagree with the EFF. But to claim they should have no voice is a wacko extrmeist position.

      Reply
          • Visitor
            Visitor

            My first impulse was to agree with you — for once! 🙂
            Freedom of speech is absolutely central to us. And especially to artists.
            But if you ignore your knee-jerk reaction and think about it, then it’s not that far out. He doesn’t say: Without copyright, we don’t need freedom of speech.
            He says there’s no point to it.
            And that is true.
            Without copyright, you wouldn’t own your words or any Intellectual Property anymore. You wouldn’t have money. You wouldn’t own your signature. Think of the consequences…
            Copyright and Free Speech go hand in hand. Both are absolutely essential in any civilized society.

  9. Visitor
    Visitor

    “Prince doesn’t even own a copyright that could be infringed in any of those uploaded recordings. Copyright only goes to the person who actually makes a fixed expression of an idea. That means members of Radiohead, as the songwriters, hold the copyright in the composition, and the fans making the recording hold the copyright in the videos. Prince is left just trying to hold control over the way people share their experiences.”

    Umm… this just shows the UTTERLY IGNORANT people at the EFF don’t know what ‘copyright’ entails.
    The person recording the concert, when explicitedly stated it is not allowed, DO NOT own ‘copyright’ on the video.
    Prince DOES INDEED own a copyright in his cover song. Yes, Radiohead (or whomever wrote the song) owns the composition, but there are TWO copyrights for every recording. The underlying composition (which belongs to Radiohead), and the recording of said (which belongs to Prince). HE (Prince) would have to pay for each copy distributed under the compulsary license. Since HE didn’t release it, it should NOT be up to him to pay for every Tom, Dickhead, and Harry putting up illegal copies on the interwebs. THAT is why he asks for it not be distributed, and is ILLEGAL for others to do so.

    In other news, the EFF is a bunch of proxy Google employees, and have had a boner to fuk with artists since its inception. Are all engineers vehnemently jealous of creative people? Or just the ones that work for the EFF?

    Reply
  10. Versus
    Versus

    None of those are examples of “free speech” in any meaningful sense. Sorry, Prince is in the right.

    – V

    Reply
  11. BarryS
    BarryS

    Just come across this story and it struck me that we always speak about freedom to this, that or the other Perhaps it’s worth remembering the old adage, “What’s freedom for the pike is death for the minnow!”

    Reply

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