Prince's Troubled Relationship With the Internet

Monday, January 27, 2014 - 09:05 AM

Prince is suing 22 fans, for $1 million a piece, for posting links to bootlegs of his concerts on filesharing sites. This is just the latest volley in Prince's long standing love/hate (well, mostly hate/hate) relationship with the internet.

Part of what makes his relationship with the internet so baffling is that back in the web's formative years, Prince was something of an early adopter. He was one of the first artists to make an album available for purchase via download, way back in 1998. In 2001, he started a website called the NPG Music Club, which allowed users to pay a monthly (or one time lifetime) subscription to get a trickle of new prince songs every so often, including non-album releases. Pretty forward thinking for the internet of 2001. 

However, 2001 was around the same moment that Napster, Limewire, Audiogalaxy, and a host of other P2P file sharing programs began to take hold, allowing users to share audio with impunity, and without subscription fees. By 2006, Prince began to sour on the internet as a distribution medium and abruptly closed NPG Music Club. 

The following year, a Prince song inadvertently set a fair use precedent when his record label Universal started sending DMCA takedown letters to YouTube videos featuring his music. One of the recipients was a woman who filmed his kids dancing to the song "Let's Go Crazy". She fought the takedown and won, with the district court saying that fair use must be considered before issuing takedown notices.

In a 2010 interview with the Daily Mirror, Prince articulated a dislike of the internet as a whole, explaining why he didn't make his music available online in the Princiest possible fashion.

"The internet's completely over. I don't see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won't pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can't get it.

"The internet's like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good.

"They just fill your head with numbers and that can't be good for you."

Still, three years later, it appeared as though he'd made an uneasy peace with the internet. He started a youtube and twitter account for his new band, 3rdeyegirl, he has made a significant part of his massive catalog available on iTunes, and he even opened up a new prince website (which has since closed).

But if today's Prince news tells you anything, it's that he still hasn't let go of pre-internet notions of control over distribution. And while other artists have managed to diminish the power of bootleggers by releasing live material themselves, Prince has decided to take the tilting at windmills approach.

(you can read the lawsuit below, if, like me, you're into that kind of thing)

 

Prince v. Chodera by Mark H. Jaffe

 

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Comments [4]

npposter from Berkeley, CA

I've never been a Prince fan. Never bought any of his music.

I completely support him in this issue. If you want an artist's work in your library, pay him/her for it. I'm frankly sick of this pervasive rationalization of theft in this country.

Jan. 31 2014 03:28 AM
Ernie from East Orange, NJ

I was a big Prince fan. I put up with his strange abuse of his fans, bible thumping one second and booty shaking the next. I really don't care anymore. There a too many other great musicians out there to put up with this guy.

Jan. 28 2014 11:54 AM
frankie

Wait.. what? Who still listens to / actively searches for Prince albums? I'm confused.

Jan. 27 2014 09:18 PM
Matthew from Seattle

This is nothing new. See http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1457884/prince-sues-fan-over-mp3-links.jhtml

The best way to share hard to find Prince these days is with friends via email. You don't have to worry about him or his lawyers coming after you if you do it that way.

If he had a brain in his head, Prince would sit down with the likes of Pearl Jam and talk with them about bootlegging and how their fan base has grown exponentially because they make concerts available to those that support them.

Instead, Prince releases poor quality concert DVDs once every ten years and re-writes his back catalog so that Jehovah won't get upset.

The fans that he sues don't make money off of the files they share. They are simply fans that aren't satisfied with Prince's limited output these days. I can understand where Prince is coming from, but one would think that he would evolve with technology by making a ton of money by releasing this material (in better quality) himself.

I'm not holding my breath. Go Hawks!

Jan. 27 2014 02:04 PM

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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. You can subscribe to our podcast here. You can follow our blog here. We’re also on Twitter, and we play Team Fortress 2 more or less constantly, so find us there if you like to communicate via computer games from six years ago.

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