I commented today to a friend of mine (who hosts a radio show) that the death of Prince seems to be a bigger deal on social media than the death earlier this year of David Bowie, Glenn Frey , George Martin or Merle Haggard. That is completely unscientific, but I feel like I’ve seen more posts about it from friends and other sources than the other deaths.
So, because this is ostensibly a legal blog, here is an interesting piece about Prince’s legal legacy. I’m not sure it’s fair to call him “litigious” but he clearly was not a fan of what the digital world was doing to the music industry.
His most significant legal legacy I think, is his impact on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA is designed to protect the rights of copyright holders and to insulate third parties from liability. The key feature of the DMCA is the notice/takedown provision. Under the DMCA, copyright holders who believe their rights are being infringed can send a notice to the online service hosting the infringing content. That site can avoid liability if it takes the content down. But the copyright holder has to act in good faith in sending the notice.
The contribution from Prince to this law arose when he sent a takedown notice to YouTube challenging a homemade video of a toddler running wild through a house, with the song “Let’s Go Crazy” in the background. Prince contended the use of the song in that video infringed his rights in the tune. The mom who made the video claimed “fair use” for the snippet of the song used in the video.
A lawsuit ensued, and has meandered along since 2007. The U.S. Court of Appeals recently issued a ruling in the case that requires copyright holders to consider the defense of fair use before sending a takedown notice, or risk a finding of bad faith. The counter argument was that so long as the work was copyrighted, it was up to the alleged infringer to assert the defense. The Ninth Circuit ruling is likely to have a chilling effect on takedown notices going forward. Probably not the result Prince was looking for.
On the upside, of course, Prince’s musical legacy is unquestionably greater than his legal legacy. I leave you with my favorite Prince song: