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Prince sues 22 fans for $1 million each for sharing bootleg recordings

Photo courtesy 3rdEyeGirl.com

Update 1/29: TMZ is reporting that Prince has withdrawn this lawsuit—though “without prejudice,” meaning that he reserves the right to re-file the suit if and when he feels like it. “Because of the recent pressure,” Prince’s attorney told TMZ, “the bootleggers have now taken down the illegal downloads and are no longer engaging in piracy.” Meanwhile, Prince went ahead and shared a 30-second preview of a new 3RDEYEGIRL song…because, you know, it’s all about the music.

Prince has always been extremely protective of his copyrighted music, and the Minnesota megastar has just lobbed a lawsuit at 22 fans—20 of them anonymous—for “massive infringement and bootlegging of Prince’s material.” The artist is seeking $1 million—a massive sum, even by the already hefty standard set by previous music-piracy lawsuits—from each defendant, in addition to any profits (likely to be scarce) the defendants might have realized through the distribution of Prince’s music.

What makes this lawsuit (first reported by Consequence of Sound) unusual among the many various music-industry actions filed against users who share illegal recordings each year is that Prince, in this case, is suing fans who merely posted links to illegal recordings—not just fans who actively uploaded or hosted files. Prince seems to believe that the defendants are also responsible for the uploading of the files, but he doesn’t believe he needs to prove that to have grounds for legal action—the lawsuit only cites evidence of the sharing of links. “Defendants constitute an interconnected network of bootleg distribution,” according to the complaint, “which is able to broadly disseminate unauthorized copies of Prince’s musical compositions and live performances.”

Further, the bootlegs Prince is concerned about here aren’t just illegal rips of studio albums—they include many recordings of concerts, some of poor quality and decades old, the kind of recordings likely to be prized only by the Purple One’s biggest fans.

“The Defendants rely on either Google’s Blogger platform or Facebook, or both,” reads the suit, “to accomplish their unlawful activity. Blogger is a service provided by Google that allows individuals to create personal blogs. Defendants, rather than publishing lawful content to their blogs, typically publish posts that list all the songs performed at a certain Prince live show and then provide a link to a file sharing service where unauthorized copies of the performance can be downloaded.”

Prince has been much in the news of late; in addition to a much-hyped guest spot on an episode of New Girl to be broadcast after the Super Bowl, he’s planning a mini-tour of London and a new album recorded with his group 3RDEYEGIRL. The London tour will be preceded by a press conference at which he’ll likely face questions about this strong-handed legal action. The full complaint, filed on January 16 in the Northern District of California—where Google and Facebook are based—is below.

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  • John

    This seems like a desperate attempt at “any publicity is good publicity?”

    I don’t see what Prince stands to gain from this. I think there’s precedence around simply linking to a bootleg doesn’t constitute infringement. As Jay points out above, Prince is most likely going after some of his most dedicated fans with the lawsuit – which doesn’t help him at all with his image or maintaining what I have to imagine is a dwindling fan base.

    Maybe he’s going broke and thinks this will be a way to raise money fast (though I’m guessing most of the defendants in the case don’t have the million, and if they do, will spend it on lawyers for this one)?

    I just don’t get what his angle is on this whole idea. Maybe he’ll drop the case in two days (after getting some headlines) and claim it was done by his legal team without his knowledge to try to save face? That’s become a popular tactic . . .

    • TRL

      Prince has been doing this for years but I feel like too many people give him a pass.

      6 years ago he was suing fan sites. Before that he was suing fan sites that would just use the “sign” on their websites.
      He’s also made some homophic and transphobic comments.

      He’s been able to get a pass by performing all of the hits from 30 years ago live and remaining as an enigma. Unfold the mystery and you see a man who hasn’t created much worth spilling ink about musically in 30 years and performs songs his own personal morals disagree with. Or his current morals disagree with those old songs so he cashes in on those same songs and message while only slightly changing the lyrics. It will all pass once he announces another super secretive show where he busts out all the hits.

    • S2N

      I don’t fault Prince at all for this. His entire career he has staunchly defended intellectual property. He stands to gain protection of his own work and prohibit sub-par video footage and
      poorly recoded audio copies to proliferate the internet. He has a right
      to what is done with his art. He certainly isn’t in any need of money. This is purely for the protection of his encyclopedia. I just hope he doesn’t force these kids to take down this awesome cover: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozv2Gfrzl7Q

  • Starquest

    Who would bootleg one of the most overrated pop stars of all time?

    • TRL

      Same reason a bunch of drugged out folks taped countless hours of the Grateful Dead marathon shows. While I’m not a fan of the Dead, they were smart to not fight the genuine excitement of their fans and it became a big part of the community that was created around the band. I believe I read that the Dead have a new site capturing even more of this content. Everyone is trying to figure out how to monetize their art but I think Prince is trying to exert a level of control that is well within his rights but not something, in addition to his music, that will endear him to new fans.

    • John Q Public

      I know not everyone is going to like Prince’s music. There are plenty of respectable artists that don’t do it for me, but the guy puts on a hell of a concert. Well worth recording IMO.

      If Prince really wants to rid the internet of sub-par recordings, I suggest he start SELLING live soundboard recordings like the Dead, Phish, Gov’t Mule, and even Springsteen does now. I would be willing to be a good percentage of his fans buy those.

  • S2N

    I don’t fault Prince at all for this. His entire career he has staunchly defended intellectual property. He stands to

    gain the rights to his own work and prohibit sub-par video footage and poorly recoded audio copies to proliferate the internet. He has a right to what is done to his art.

  • Mark2309

    Prince is a complete hypocrite, he had absolutely no qualms about giving away his version of The Soul Children’s song “The Sweeter He Is” without the permission of the publisher. The Raw Story does a great job of outlining just how desperate and amateurish Prince’s lawsuit truly is: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/01/27/prince-sues-22-fans-for-1-million-each-for-linking-to-bootlegs/

  • PD Larson

    No one is denying Prince has a right to protect his intellectual property, no matter how misguided his motives may be. The issue here, as presented in the complaint, is whether or not the mere publication of a link on the Internet constitutes copyright infringement. In other words, is the act of publishing a link the same as the act of uploading or hosting an unauthorized file? How one could prove that an illegal download took place as the result of a link in a music blog post seems to me to be an insurmountable legal challenge and one that AFAIK has never been successfully been made before. It’s important to note that there’s no proof that these bloggers ever possessed, uploaded or hosted the files of Prince’s music. All they did was post links that are easily available through any search engine.

  • Santos-Golpe Patty

    what a jerk