Prince & Copyright Enforcement

It is interesting that the death of one of the most iconic american musicians of all time also centered around one of the most well known copyright infringement cases in history.




International pop star Prince Rogers Nelson, better known to the world as by Prince, passed away on Thursday April 21st. He was only 57 years old.


An icon in his own right, Prince made many highly influential songs. For our own purposes,  one in particular is the center of our discussion and points to a larger discussion about the legacy that Prince leaves and fought for during his life: copyright enforcement.


The song that is the center of our attention is Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy”, the song used in the infamous “dancing baby case”. Jacob Gershman, writer for the Wall Street Journal has a couple of articles that center around both the case and Prince’s fight for copyright enforcement. Both can be read here and here.


A good summary of the dancing baby case was titled “Lenz vs Universal” and was also written about by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. You can read the summary here suffice it to say, the case was about fair use, youtube and what copyrights Prince was allowed to enforce because of his song being used by a Youtube users video. You can also read about the case on my site here.


In regards to Prince’s lifetime fight for copyright enforcement, Gersham gives a good summary and description of his endeavors:


The pop music world suffered a huge loss on Thursday with the sudden death of Prince, who will be long remembered as one of the industry’s most innovative and influential stars.

But in the legal arena, “the artist formerly known as Prince” was known as perhaps the recording industry’s most tenacious defender of copyright protections.

The artist and music companies representing him pushed the boundaries of copyright law with disputes that set legal precedents and polarized fans.

In regards to some of the precedents that he alludes to that extend outside of the dancing baby case, Gersham says this:


Prince was also one of the first major artists to slap Twitter with takedown notices demanding the removal of Vine video clips, which were no more than six seconds long.


It was interesting to learn that Prince had been involved in championing the rights of artists since the 80’s. Just google the words “Prince and Copyright” and you come up with a number of the cases the Prince has been involved in.


One doesn’t get the sense however that he was largely concerned with money. While that was obviously a large part of each case and large amounts of money was won and awarded, Prince never gave the impression that financial gain was his priority. It seems that it was more focused on being a champion for artist rights. He was a largely private individual and while he knew how to put on a very flashy, elaborate concert, it was always focused on excellence in music, devoid of the extravagance that other celebrities parade in the mainstream media.


The point of all this is this: upon the death of a music icon, we can be reminded of a number of things. One, there are mainstream artists who are concerned with being fair and mature in copyright enforcement. Secondly, copyright enforcement affects an insanely large part of the way music is made, shared and owned. As Prince and other iconic musicians are remembered, it would behoove us to remain committed to championing both artist and consumer rights in the music industry.