Facebook users concerned about privacy issues now have to worry about someone else monitoring their posts: Prince.
Minneapolis’ most famous and litigious superstar made news again this week with a $22 million copyright-infringement suit against 22 accused bootleggers, many of whom were tracked down via Facebook links to bootlegged concert recordings.
A sign of the little rock star’s sizable legal muscle, the links were swiftly pulled. Therefore, Prince does not plan to pursue the claims of $1 million per defendant, said his lawyer, Rhonda Trotter of Los Angeles.
“Our continuous goal is to provide a high quality experience for fans,” Prince said in a statement released by Trotter. “When we see material that does not represent that quality, we will ask to have it taken down. We regret that we had to take this action to be taken seriously. However, we are pleased that the material has been taken down. That is our goal.”
The events are just the latest skirmish in the rock legend’s ongoing battle to prevent unapproved distribution of his music.
In 2007, Prince was one of the more high-profile names to file suit against the download website Pirate Bay, which caused Internet providers around the world to ban the site. That same year, his lawyers forced a California mom to take down a YouTube video of her toddler dancing while “Let’s Go Crazy” played in the background.
In this new case, he went after downloads of live recordings, ranging from a 1983 Chicago gig to a 2011 show in Charlotte, N.C. An earlier cease-and-desist request had no effect, according to a Prince representative, so he filed suit in U.S. District Court in northern California, where Facebook and Google have their headquarters. According to the suit, links were posted via Facebook or Google’s Blogger platform, but neither company was named as a defendant.
Some fans expressed anger on Prince.org and other fan forums, seeing this latest lawsuit as the same old song and dance, but some Twin Cities music-business professionals suggest there’s a method to the legal maneuvering.
“Prince, in my mind, is clearly entitled to raise these issues,” said Minneapolis entertainment attorney Ken Abdo, who has represented such Minnesota stars as Jonny Lang and Owl City.
Unlike most major recording artists, Prince does not have a record company to represent him, so he has to file lawsuits on his own behalf, Abdo noted.
“He may think like Disney, which raises these kind of issues at regular intervals to send a message,” Abdo said. “This way, everyone knows Prince might sue you if you mess with his property.”
Band manager Paul Gillis said many music acts do not take legal action against concert bootleggers because it might dampen ticket sales and general enthusiasm, but it certainly should be up to the artist.
“Prince created that music, and it’s up to him to decide how he wants others to experience it,” said Gillis, who helped get local singer Jeremy Messersmith signed to Mumford & Sons’ record label recently. “We also don’t know if Prince was planning on releasing a live album down the road, so there may be deeper motivations behind the lawsuit.”
Fans not surprised
One of Prince’s most die-hard Twin Cities fans, Heidi Vader — who saw 12 of his shows in the past year and heard the debut of “Purple Rain” at First Avenue in 1983 — thinks the singer might be shrewd enough to see the publicity value in such lawsuits.
“It seems well timed to the ‘New Girl’ episode and the London shows,” Vader said, referencing Prince’s next two big to-dos. (He will appear in the Fox sitcom “New Girl” following the Super Bowl on Sunday, and then he is expected to announce a run of shows in England on Monday).
Said Vader, “In this day and age, it’s illogical for him to think this sort of thing won’t happen. It would make sense if people were actually making money off these [bootlegs], but they’re not.”
One commenter on the Prince.org fan site argued that bootlegs “keep the fans interested. Fans still pay for what gets released. … We are just fans that want more.”
Robert Poppo, an Indiana fan who treks to the Twin Cities for Prince shows, defended the singer: “People might stop going to his concerts if they know they can get recordings of the shows for free.”
In legal terms, Abdo said, determining financial damage is difficult. That’s just one reason most artists turn a blind eye to the type of bootlegging targeted in this latest case.
“He’s an unusual guy, but he’s unusually successful,” Abdo said. “He has the financial means to pursue these legal actions, which a lot of other independent artists don’t have.”