In life, Prince garnered a reputation for himself as a tireless defender of his copyright. A somewhat unfortunate side effect of Prince’s war on pirates, however, is that obtaining his music on the internet through legal channels such as YouTube and Spotify, can be difficult.
As with many mourned artists, Princes, death was followed by a surge in sales of his music, with album sales jumping from 1,400 in the 72 hours prior to his passing, to 650,000 albums plus 2.8 million songs in the 4 days following it.
This surge in legal sales, however, was mirrored by an equally impressive surge in illegal downloads of his music. During the same time, an estimated 100,000 people downloaded a Prince torrent, with discographies of his entire oeuvre being the most popular choice.
It is somewhat ironic that, although there will always be those who want stuff for free, the fact that Prince made it so difficult to obtain his music legally online has almost certainly helped to fuel this copyright piracy frenzy…
Prince: his war on internet copyright piracy
2007 – In what he claimed was move a to “reclaim the internet, ” Prince announced that he was going to sue YouTube, eBay, and other major sites for hosting his copyrighted material. British IP protection outfit Web Sherriff then removed some 2,000 Prince videos from YouTube, and around 300 items from eBay (including unauthorised merchandise such as Prince mugs, socks and clocks, and key rings).
The most (in)famous takedown resulted in the “Dancing Baby” case. When Prince demanded that YouTube remove a 29-second clip of a toddler dancing to his 1984 hit song “Let’s Go Crazy”, the mother took him to court, claiming fair use. The case is still ongoing.
Fans responded by creating “Prince Fans United” websites to fight back against Prince’s legal aggression. Prince’s lawyers promptly declared that these website themselves constituted copyright infringement. Prince’s promoter, AEG, however, took a more conciliatory line, saying that only some photos posted on the websites actually constituted copyright infringement. It insisted that Prince was “not suing fans”.
The “Prince Fans United” websites then received a “PFUnk” providing a kind of “unofficial answer” to their movement. On November 20, the song was released on iTunes, retitled “F.U.N.K.” Lines of the song relevant to the situation include:
- “There you have it world, that is passing away”
- “I love all y’all, but don’t you ever mess with me no more”
- “The only reason you say my name is to get your fifteen seconds of fame, nobody’s even sure what you do”
- “The best remedy for a basket full of lies is funk.”
2008 – Prince performed a cover of Radiohead‘s “Creep” at the Coachella Festival. He immediately demanded that YouTube and other websites remove fan footage of the performance, despite Radiohead’s objections,
“Well, tell him to unblock it. It’s our … song.!”
The footage was quickly reinstated by YouTube.
“What I meant was that the internet was over for anyone who wants to get paid, and I was right about that,” he says. “Tell me a musician who’s got rich off digital sales. Apple’s doing pretty good though, right?”
This prompted the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to induct Prince into its “Takedown Hall of Shame,” awarding him its new “Raspberry Beret Lifetime Aggrievement Award for extraordinary abuses of the takedown process in the name of silencing speech.”
Prince was a very talented musician who will be sorely missed, and whose untimely passing is mourned by millions of fans across the globe. His struggle to defend his intellectual property, however, may not just have been ultimately futile, but is likely to have activity driven piracy of his work.