Prince has had a remarkable and controversial career. He has produced a number of fine albums but he has made a number of odd moves including changing his name to an unpronounceable love symbol. Not long ago he gave away a copy of his latest album free with a Sunday paper here in the UK, but if Prince giveth, Prince can also taketh away.
Prince's latest decision, however, is likely to provoke a backlash from his fans: he has threatened to sue fans for breach of copyright, His lawyers have forced his three biggest internet fan sites to remove all photographs, images, lyrics, album covers and anything linked to the artist's likeness. A legal letter asks the fan sites to provide "substantive details of the means by which you propose to compensate our clients [Paisley Park Entertainment Group, NPG Records and AEG] for damages".
A coalition named Prince Fans United, representing Housequake. Princefans and Prince.org has been formed to contest the action on the basis that it was an attempt "to stifle all critical commentary about Prince". They added that the "cease and desist" notices went as far as calling for the removal of pictures taken by fans of their Prince tattoos and their vehicles carrying Prince-inspired licence plates.
"It's a really short-sighted and futile move," said Nicola Slade, editor of the industry newsletter Record of the Day. "Prince has got a lot of fans and as he's decided to take a more left field approach to releasing his material, he should be nurturing the relationship. I'm shocked, really." Alex Burmaster, an analyst at Nielsen Online, said: "It's a paradox that a musician who has done so much to bring himself closer to his fans, particularly with his 'them and us' crusade against the record labels, should be engaging in a course of action that effectively removes the raison d'etre of fan sites. “
This move follows an earlier attack on copyrighted material available on websites including YouTube and eBay. Using the services of internet company Web Sheriff about 2,000 clips have been removed from YouTube, including one posted by a mother of her baby dancing to Let's Go Crazy and Prince's. Lawyers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation have vowed to contest the claim on her behalf, saying the song is hardly audible and constitutes fair use.
A spokeswoman for the fans' campaign said the sites had always tried to work with Prince's management. But it appeared that Prince wanted to edit his past and there was "no sign" of his lawyers backing down, she said. "He's trying to control the internet 100% and you can't do that without infringing people's freedom of speech," she added.