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May 2016

Prince (of Litigation)

Written by Leanne

In memoriam of Prince, Survive Law has taken a brief look into the legal legacy left by the flamboyant performer.

Apparently, his Royal Purpleness was just as experienced in law as he was in the entertainment industry, with The Hollywood Reporter claiming that Prince’s “legal skirmishes are nearly as legendary as the music”.

Arguably the most brazen was a contractual fight with Warner Bros in 1993, resulting in the change of name from Prince Rogers Nelson to an unpronounceable ‘love symbol’. This unprecedented yet comical prank on Warner Bros lasted until 2000, when the contract finished. Wittily, journalists named him “the artist formerly known as Prince” during this time. His other pseudonyms included Jamie Starr, The Starr Company, Joey Coco, Alexander Nevermind and Christopher. 

 

Name changing and shape shifting aside, Prince will also be remembered for the impact he left on the area of copyright law in the digital era. There was the famous Web Sheriff debacle, whereby Prince announced an intention to sue the likes of YouTube and Ebay for hosting copyrighted material. Shortly after, he made legal requests to a fan base dubbed Prince Fans United, among others, to prevent the use of his images, music, lyrics and likeness online. The threats to sue included requests for the fan sites to provide a compensation proposal to Paisley Park Entertainment Group, NPG Records and AEG, to make amends for losses suffered. 

 

There was also the time he filed a $22 million copyright lawsuit against 22 different users of Facebook and Blogger, for uploading a number of unofficial videos of his live performances.  In this instance, the Purple One made demands that the mostly-anonymous defendants be permanently blocked from infringing his work, and hand over all ‘unlawful materials’ and resulting profits. A fortnight later, the suit was dismissed without clear explanation and without prejudice. 

Last month, a California man filed a ‘declaration, petition and demand for notice’ for ownership of all of Prince’s intellectual property, valued at $1 billion.  The self-represented plaintiff argues an implied agreement made sometime in the mid-90s, which was the result of a default, because legal papers he had previously served on the artist were never acknowledged. It would be an absurd result if this action was successful.  

 

But the legal battles don’t stop with his death. Not only are there complex issues relating to his estate in the absence of a will.  Recently, Web Sheriff has re-emerged on Prince’s behalf, issuing thousands of takedown notices to Google for pirated content.  Whilst we’re unlikely to find authorised versions of his work on popular apps such as Spotify and YouTube, Prince was said to be a fan of Jay Z’s Tidal – largely due to its reputation as an ‘artist friendly streaming platform’. 

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