Image: Prince performs during a jam session in the Montreux Jazz Cafe
Laurent Gillieron  /  AP
Last week, Prince took legal action against three of his biggest fan sites to prevent use of anything remotely referencing him. Prince, you're a musical genius. But put a sock in it.
Helen Popkin
By
msnbc.com
updated 11/15/2007 2:18:13 PM ET 2007-11-15T19:18:13

Prince, I believe I'm allowed to use the capitalized word in reference to the man (but I cleverly put it at the beginning of the sentence to avoid copyright complications), never struck anyone as someone who's totally right in the head. Genius? Yes. Stable? Come the eff off it.

So while it’s shocking, it’s hardly a surprise to learn within months of dropping his newest album “Planet Earth” all over England practically for free, one of the most demonstrative critics of corporate oppression threatened to sue YouTube and eBay, and as of last week, took legal action against three of his biggest fan sites to prevent use of, well, anything even remotely referencing him. SHUT UP, already. Damn!

Prince and his legal lackeys really have no case when it comes to YouTube and eBay, as long as those sites take down the alleged copyright infringing content once it’s brought to their attention. For those private citizens posting the allegedly-offending content, precedents are waiting to be set.

Sure, the rest of us could froth at the mouth over the dude’s insistence that photos of Artist-inspired tattoos and license plates never meet binary code. But the extremes of this his business actions inspire an actual interesting conversation about the ongoing battle over digital rights.

Prince says he’s “reclaiming the Internet.” From and for whom isn’t clear. According to one ABC source, the Artist himself allegedly scours YouTube for offending content, such as a 29-second home movie featuring a baby boogying to his hit "Let's Go Crazy."

It seems this guy’s particular burden is a desire to either go his own way or be difficult, depending on your perspective.

Born a boy, he decided to dress in fabulous ruffley pink blouses. Well done, Sir.

He’s lauded for creating his very own musical classification. “Oh, you just released an album? Very nice, I've got my own genre.” Caught in a contract with Warner Brothers, he inked "Slave" on his face and changed his name to a fancy ampersand. I'm not sure I understand, but I certainly don't sympathize with the poor record execs notorious for screwing artists out of cash. So, probably genius again.

This latest revolution, ooh, I mean rebellion, though is the weirdest, since he's flying in the face of his fans, an adorable dancing baby, and well, himself. He dropped that album in Britain by giving it away free to concert attendees and people who bought the Sunday newspaper. Even though it led to “Planet Earth” getting dumped by its British distributors, it seemed pretty clever at the time.

For a while, it seemed the Artist actually worked out that the music is a means to an end, not the end itself. The end is getting paid, but if the album gets your fans' asslessly chapped asses into seats, then so much the better. If your runaway popularity gets your music into commercials for phones and stuff, then whoopee. Set the music free and charge for the services! Amen, you freaky genius you.

Turns out though that the genius doesn't always translate. Prince is just ornery. I for one hope he'll come to his senses and stop being such a jerk about copyright infringement. Because I'd like to be able to listen to his songs occasionally without fear of legal attack by the copyright enforcers.

Huh? What do you mean we can't listen to the music anymore? Well, apparently you can listen to it on headphones, but the moment you play it out loud, you're running grave risks. This latest dancing baby problem (not like Ally McBeal) is a troubling turn, since the uploader wasn't making money off it, and the Artist’s music was essentially part of the environment.

If I'm shooting a home movie and a Coke™ truck drives past in the background, do I owe Coke™ money? What if the truck’s blasting “Little Red Corvette?”

Anyway, here’s hoping Prince™ snaps out of it. In the meantime Prince™, if you’re reading this, my friend Daniel bought Purple Rain™ when he was in middle school, but he’s since lost the disc. Since he owns the individual rights to play that music, he wants me to ask you to send him a new copy. He’ll take MP3 files, or even pay the 3 cents for a new disc to be pressed.

C’mon! Cut him some slack. He’s from England. And if you don’t, he’s going to sue me for any past or future ideas I may’ve borrowed.

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