Prince was notorious for enforcing copyright to his songs, and now his heirs have made sure that litigiousness has extended beyond the grave, demanding the removal from social media of a video of a “Purple Rain” singalong tribute.
A photojournalist for the Star Tribune, the daily newspaper in Prince’s hometown of Minneapolis, posted on Twitter a video of a street crowd spontaneously singing the Purple One’s celebrated ballad on the day of his death in 2016.
The video, which was retweeted more than 13,500 times, recently vanished.
The photographer, Aaron Lavinsky, said that the Universal Music Publishing Group, which holds rights to Prince’s songs, had ordered it removed.
The publisher, he said, was acting under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, an often controversial 1998 US law that allows copyright holders to issue takedown notices to online material and exempts internet companies from liability.
“DCMA takedowns are an important tool for artists who need to protect their intellectual property online, but a major corporation abusing system to remove a news video shot by a newspaper photographer is inappropriate,” Lavinsky tweeted.
Representatives for Universal, the largest music label conglomerate and parent of the publisher, did not immediately return a request asking for comment.
Prince vigorously took aim at online postings during his life, with his team demanding that fans take down footage of live performances and their own covers of his songs.
Most famously, Universal in 2007 demanded that a mother, Stephanie Lenz, remove a half-minute video from YouTube of her toddler son dancing to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.”
The case went to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which in a nuanced opinion did not fully back Lenz but said that copyright holders needed to consider fair use, meaning the right to use material for purposes such as social commentary and criticism.
The Supreme Court declined to take up the case and Universal settled with Lenz out of court last month. The video, dubbed “Dancing Boy,” remains on YouTube where it has been viewed nearly two million times.
Prince’s estate has eased some of the singer’s directives since his death, including putting his music on major streaming services such as Spotify and signing new deals with record labels, with which Prince feuded so intensely that he briefly changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol in the 1990s to escape contractual conditions.