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Pick On Someone Your Own Size

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Prince’s career has been frought with erratic zigs and zags, but over the last few years, it has also taken on the whiff of blatant hypocrisy. Prince’s production company just sued (another) fan,

    the operator of an Internet site that allegedly offered pirated recordings of the rock star’s live performances from his “Xenophobia” concert series in June.

    Paisley Park Enterprises, based in Chanhassen, Minn., filed the copyright-infringement lawsuit in federal court Wednesday.

    Prince names Matthew Lankford of Seattle, operator of http://FreeMyHeart.com – a Web site devoted to singer Me’Shell Ndegeocello.

    The lawsuit alleges that Lankford broke federal copyright laws by allowing Web users to download Prince songs that included “specific information describing which day the unauthorized recording of the ‘Xenophobia’ concert took place.”

    Lankford denied violating the copyrights and said he doesn’t think he’s done anything illegal.

    “What he’s claiming is that I put up files on my Web site. What happened is I put up links to other Web sites that had files on them,” he said Friday.

    Lankford said there’s no mention of Prince on the Web site now and there won’t be any in the future.

    “One of my favorite artists is coming after me for promoting him on my Web site,” Lankford said. “For him to seek $150,000 per song to try to ruin me for doing nothing more than promoting him is … overdoing it.”

Besides “overdoing it,” the suit is in flagrant opposition to Prince’s own writing on the subject of P2P (please forgive the Prince-speak):

    What is 4 sure, however, is that, in spite of its many claims 2 the contrary, the recording industry has yet 2 provide evidence that P2P is actually detrimental 2 music making as an artistic endeavor, and even as a commercial venture. It is worth remembering, 4 xample, that sales of music CDs actually increased when Napster was at its peak, and declined after Napster was abruptly shut down. Even economists who thought that file sharing “should b” hurting the recording industry r now xpressing their doubts, based on what they say is simply not happening.

    More importantly, many well-respected artists have sided with Internet users against corporate greed and actually use the Internet 2 promote alternative ways 2 distribute their music and reach out 2 a non-captive, legitimate audience of authentic music lovers.

    This does not mean, of course, that all 4ms of file sharing r equally innocuous. There is little doubt that, when people use the Internet as a substitute 4 radio, i.e. as a way 2 discover new music, it can help promote the work of artists. But when a young junior high school student downloads tracks off the Internet and makes CD-R copies of them that he then sells 4 $5 in the schoolyard, it hurts sales of the original CD and it’s disrespectful of the artist – regardless of how small a cut of the actual CD price the artist actually gets after all the xecutives and the middlemen in the recording industry have taken their piece of the pie.

    Still, can we really go as far as 2 say that digital technology is creating a “nation of thieves” who no longer recognize the just value of art?

Prince is a man of extreme dualities, not to say contradictions, but while he is off blithely making statements like, “It is worth remembering, 4 xample, that sales of music CDs actually increased when Napster was at its peak, and declined after Napster was abruptly shut down,” his enforcers have been threatening fans since at least 1998, as evidenced by this email letter sent to several Prince-related site webmasters:

    Sent: Friday, March 20, 1998 1:05 PM
    To: {name deleted here}
    Subject: Unauthorized Use of Paisley Park Enterprises Materials

    Dear Sir/Madam:

    Please be advised that I am legal counsel to NPG Records, Paisley Park Enterprises, the Artist formerly known as Prince (the “Artist”) and the related companies of the Artist (all collectively referred herein as “Paisley Park”). Please be advised that Paisley Park retains proprietary rights in the names, images and likenesses and performances of the Artist.

    It has recently come to our attention that you have been proliferating material through the Internet and otherwise that contains copyrighted material owned by the Artist including, but not limited to, the Artist’s name, likeness or recordings (the “Unauthorized Material””) without any authorization from Paisley Park to do so. You are hereby put on notice that the dissemination of any such Unauthorized Material without the prior express authorization from Paisley Park may cause immediate and irreparable harm to Paisley Park’s reputation and to the Artist’s valuable proprietary right in his name, image and likeness and would also constitute a willful violation of both federal and state unfair competition laws.

    Accordingly, we hereby demand the following of you and any person or entity with which you are affiliated: (1) that you immediately cease and desist from the dissemination, copying, or commercial exploitation of the Unauthorized Material; (2) deliver to us all such copies, including the packaging therefor which are in your possession and control; (3) that you deliver to us all such copies of Unauthorized Material which come into your possession and control; (4) that you secure the return of all such copies from any person or entities; (5) that you remove all Unauthorized Material from you web pages or web sites. We further demand that you advise us, immediately of what steps you will take to prevent the dissemination or further distribution or exploitation of the Unauthorized Materials by you, any affiliates or related entities.

    You are hereby placed on notice that the possession and dissemination, or other exploitation of the Unauthorized Material at issue is unlawful and a serious violation of Paisley Park’s legal and equitable rights for which they will hold you and any person or entity acting in concert with you, fully accountable. This letter is without prejudice to Paisley Park’s legal and equitable rights, all of which are expressly reserved.

    ….Sincerely,
    L. Londell McMillan

To which a recipient rather cheekily replied:

    Dear Sir/Madam:
    Please be advised that I am a fan of NPG Records, Paisley Park Enterprises,
    and the Artist formerly known as Prince (the “Artist”) and the related companies of the Artist (all collectively referred herein as “Paisley Park”). Please be advised that Paisley Park is absolutely paranoid when it comes to names, images and likenesses and performances of the Artist.

    It has recently come to our attention that you are at risk of losing the few remaining fans (collectively referred to in the past by the Artist as “Friends”) you have on the Internet (and otherwise) who have been legally purchasing copyrighted material owned by the Artist for years including, but not limited to, 8×10 glossy pictures, jewelry, magazines, tickets for concerts that were cancelled, mediocre albums from the likes of T.C. Ellis and Carmen Electra, underwear, perfume, and recordings (the “Authorized Material”) without any regard to the ultimate quality of the product. You are hereby put on notice that the dissemination of any such Authorized Material in the future without the prior express apology from the Artist for this unwarranted attack upon his Friends may cause immediate and irreparable harm to Paisley Park’s reputation and to the Artist’s valuable proprietary right in his name, image and likeness and would also constitute a willful violation of both the trust we have put into him and loyalty we have shown him over the years.

    Accordingly, we hereby demand the following of you and any person or entity with which you are affiliated: (1) that you immediately cease and desist from the dissemination or copying of that silly legal notice you sent your Friends; (2) that you deliver to us all copies of NPG Magazine you owe us (or a refund); (3) that you deliver to us all such copies of Authorized Material (Crystal Ball) which have been ordered and charged to said Friends credit cards but which have not been shipped yet; (4) that you provide full refunds to those who have cancelled their orders with 1-800-New-Funk; (5) that you remove all references from your web pages or web sites regarding the ordering of Crystal Ball until such a time as you can guarantee one week delivery of said album. We further demand that you advise us immediately of what steps you will take to prevent the dissemination or further distribution of such legal notices or exploitation of your Friends by you, any affiliates or related entities.

    You are hereby placed on notice that the continued dissemination of that legal notice, or other exploitation of your dwindling fan base is not in your best interest and is a serious violation of the loyalty your Friends have shown you through thick and (fiber-optic) thin. This letter is without prejudice to Friend’s legal and equitable rights, all of which are expressly reserved.

    Please understand that this is not a threat of a boycott of his music; we will continue to listen to and enjoy every song he puts out. It is simply a statement of our intention to not purchase another product from the Artist until he shows proper respect for those who have made him what he is.

    I look forward to hearing an apology from you immediately but in no event later than the close of business on April 3, 1998. I or any of my Friends can be reached at .

Here is another threat from early 2001:

    January 23, 2001

    Dear Sir/Madam:

    Please be advised that I am legal counsel to NPG Records, Paisley Park Enterprises, Inc., Prince Rogers Nelson (“Prince”), and the related companies of Paisley Park Enterprises, Inc. (all collectively referred to herein as “Paisley Park”). You are hereby placed on notice that Paisley Park retains proprietary rights in the names, images, likenesses and performances of Prince.

    It recently has come to our attention that you have been proliferating material through the Internet and otherwise that contains copyrighted material owned by Prince including, but not limited to, Prince’s name, likeness or recordings (the “Unauthorized Material”) without any authorization from Paisley Park to do so. You are further put on notice that the dissemination of any such Unauthorized Material without the prior express authorization from Paisley Park will cause immediate and irreparable harm to Paisley Park’s reputation and to Prince’s valuable and proprietary rights in his name, image and likeness and would also constitute a willful violation of both federal and state unfair competition laws.

    Accordingly, we hereby demand the following of you and any person or entity with which you are affiliated: (1) that you immediately cease and desist from the dissemination, copying, or commercial exploitation of the Unauthorized Material, including but not limited to, e-mail dissemination; and (2) that you remove all Unauthorized Material from your web pages or websites, and refrain from posting such Unauthorized Material on any other sites. We further demand that you advise us immediately of what steps you will take to prevent the dissemination or further distribution or exploitation of the Unauthorized Material by you, any affiliates or related entities.

    You are further placed on notice that its possession and dissemination, or other exploitation of the Unauthorized Material at issue is unlawful and a serious violation of Paisley Park’s legal and equitable rights for which they will hold you and any person or entity acting in concert with you, fully accountable. This letter is without prejudice to Paisley Park’s legal and equitable rights, all of which are expressly reserved.

    I look forward to hearing from you immediately.

    Very truly yours,

    Traci V. Bransford, Esq.
    General Counsel for
    Paisley Park Enterprises, Inc.

So which is the “real” Prince? Apparently both – no wonder even his fans maintain a love/hate relationship with him.

The Career
To prove I am not out to get Prince, just come to terms with his lurching hypocrisy, here is a very favorable career overview written by Dawn Olsen and myself:

The Minneapolis Sound of the early-80s was a spirited blend of funk, disco, synth-pop, R&B, soul and rock played by a multi-racial, gender-blending group of musicians under the tutelage of the child prodigy Prince (self-renamed in the ’90s with an unpronounceable hieroglyph, followed by “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” then simply “The Artist” in rapid succession, then back to Prince – do we see a pattern?). Though obviously inspired by Sly and the Family Stone, the Artist found his voice in the apparent duality of sex and God, rather than through Sly’s peace, love and drugs.

Prince channeled a fair amount of his quirky mystique into the careers of a
collage of proteges: The Time (“Jungle Love,” “The Bird”), Vanity 6 (“Nasty Girl”), Apollonia 6 (“Sex Shooter”), Sheila E (“The Glamorous Life,” “A Love Bizarre”) and Sheena Easton (“Sugar Walls”) as well as members of his own bands the Revolution (Wendy and Lisa) and the New Power Generation. For a period of time in the mid-80s, the Artist and his clan challenged Michael Jackson and Madonna for supremacy over the pop world.

Prince has made his mark with over fifty pop and R&B chart appearances, including five No. 1 singles (“When Doves Cry,” “Kiss,” “Let’s Go Crazy,” “Batdance,” “Cream”), five singles in the Top 5 (“Most Beautiful Girl In The World,” “Sign ‘O’ the Times,” “Raspberry Beret,” “U Got The Look,” “Purple Rain”), three No. 1 albums (Purple Rain, Around the World In a Day, Batman), in addition to the hugely successful film, Purple Rain.

On June 7, 1958 in Minneapolis, the Prince Rogers Nelson graced the world with his royal presence. The young Prince (named after his father’s jazz combo, the “Prince Rogers Trio”) was deeply affected by his parent’s marital strife and subsequent family instability. After graduating from Central High School on his 18th birthday, Prince continued with his job at Moon Sound Studio, where mentor Chris Moon instructed the young Prince in production and Prince helped Moon write songs in a 50/50 split.

After the pair had no luck securing a deal, Moon contacted local ad man Owen
Husney, who agreed to manage Prince, provided him with a small allowance,
his first synth, and advised him to drop his last name. Husney’s past relationship
with Warner Brothers V.P. Russ Thyret would prove pivotal to Prince’s signing. Husney’s belief in Prince’s talent was so strong that he insisted the young star
be allowed to produce, write and play all instruments on his albums with Warner
Brothers.

After passing a “studio test” with producers Gary Katz, Russ Titelman, and Ted Templeman, Prince signed a six-figure contract – one of the largest ever for a new artist.

Prince’s debut album, For You, sold 150,000 copies and received a modicum of critical praise. “Soft And Wet/So Blue,” the first single from For You, sold 350,000 copies and reached No. 12 on the R&B chart. Prince’s third album, Dirty Mind, basically another one man show, started to make inroads with the pop audience, but didn’t have a strong single and was a step back commercially from his second album, Prince. “When You Were Mine” is the surprise of the album – a punchy, melodic new wave tune that could have come from the Police (and they would have been happy to have it).

Dirty Mind was the artistic bridge between the Prince of the past and the one who became a superstar. Prince began to gain a reputation as a highly charismatic, if over the top, performer: he stalked the stage in bikini briefs and high heeled boots, simulating sex with his guitar and various band members. This behavior raised eyebrows and inspired his next album title.

Controversy is bright synth pop splashed with black dance rhythms. Prince’s natural voice replaced much of the falsetto of previous albums. The title track is classic Prince that deals with the sexual, social and racial close-mindedness of the time with gospel intensity.

Controversy, released in October of ’81, was created during a prolific time in Prince’s career. In between Mind and Controversy, he put together a great funk group, The Time, which featured future production stars Jimmy “Jam” Harris (keyboards) and Terry Lewis (bass), Cynthia Johnson (original lead singer, who left to sing with Lipps, Inc. of “Funkytown” fame), guitarist Jesse Johnson (who went on to a solo career), and lead singer Morris Day (who sparred with Prince in the film Purple Rain, and had a solo hit with “Fishnet”). Though filled with raw talent, most of the magical moments on the Time’s first three albums were generated by Prince.

1999 is the Prince’s masterpiece. The double-LP format gave him more
space to stretch out and he finally connected with the pop audience. Chock-full
of hits, the album’s best include the apocalyptic “1999,” with its chunky guitar riffs, anthemic melody and jubilant vocal. “Little Red Corvette,” a musical comparison between the feminine mystique and a muscle car, succeeds on every level with the elegant tension of the verses answered by the flowing organs, pounding drums, orgasmic guitar and vocal ejaculations of Prince on the choruses.

Prince’s frenzy shifts into overdrive on the effervescent “Delirious,” and the funky, upbeat “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” is a manifestation of his Seventh Day Adventist upbringing: true carnal pleasure can only be achieved through guilt-free association, leading to self-deception.

Prince sold out numerous shows across the country on the “1999 Tour” (with Vanity 6 and the Time as supporting acts) and received Rolling Stone’s Artist of the Year for 1982 and Musician of the Year at the Black Music Awards.

While on the “1999 Tour,” Prince jottted down ideas in a “purple journal” he kept with him at all times. In that journal were the seeds of Purple Rain. With a multitude of individuals financing the project, the script was fleshed out and Prince was cast as the lead. Real Minneapolis scenesters (including the Time and Apollonia 6) formed much of the supporting cast.

The semi-autobiographical plot tells of the struggles, rivalries and mercurial rise to fame of the “Kid” and the scene around him. The Purple Rain soundtrack spent twenty-four weeks at No. 1 on the pop charts and turned Prince into a superstar. The proceeds also allowed Prince to build Paisley Park, the full service recording studio and office complex near Minneapolis which served as his headquarters.

The classic single “When Doves Cry” is daringly sparse compared to previous work, with beautifully crafted Beethovian synth lines and Hendrix-style guitar punctuating a forthright beat and soulful tune. “Let’s Go Crazy,” cemented Prince’s rock ‘n’ roll reputation and is as euphoric and maniacal as the title implies.

The title track, an echoey and bombastic pop ballad, was clearly overproduced, but rode all the way to No. 2 on the success of the film and the soundtrack. Prince has never again achieved this level of across-the-board success, but he has many other outstanding moments in his (too?) prolific career. Around The World in a Day was the follow up to Rain and Prince’s attempt to take the eclecticism of Rain even farther afield. The Beatlesque album produced a couple of hits, including the charming “Raspberry Beret,” but generated mixed reviews.

In 1986 Prince pursued another movie, Under The Cherry Moon, which attempted to elevate petulance to the level of artistic ideal. It flopped, but the soundtrack, Parade, yielded the jittery funk of “Kiss.”

Spooky and erotic, “Kiss” was originally written for Mazarati, a side project of Prince’s bass player Mark Brown. Prince scribbled some lyrics down, came up with the tune on acoustic guitar, sang it into a tape recorder and told Mazarati to come up with the rest. After the band worked up an arrangement and played it for Prince, he repossessed the tune. Prince giveth and Prince taketh away.

The inspiration for 1987’s near-classic Sign O’ The Times dates back to Sly Stone’s dark and brooding There’s a Riot Goin’ On. Ghetto uprisings, deteriorating race relations and AIDS caused Prince to augment his sex-and-God ethos. The title track warns and confides. “Housequake” jams to an edgy hip-hop beat, and “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” is a brilliant pick up line delivered in one of Prince’s most infectious pop/rock melodies.

It has grown harder to separate the wheat from the chaff since Sign. The hard funk of “Alphabet Street” and “Gett Off,” and the lovely neo-soul of “The Most Beautiful Girl In the World” are Prince’s most pleasing songs of the late-80’s and ’90s. In the ’90s, music took a back seat to the infamous name change and “the Artist’s’ battles with his former label, Warner Brothers.

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About Eric Olsen

  • http://www.flyovercountry.blogspot.com Chris

    What’s interesting is it seems like artists whose careers are in decline are the only ones upset by all this new fangled internet music sharing. Run “U2 Live” through a Google search and you find a ton of sites offering “pirated” CD’s or downloads. Heck, one site even has almost every U2 show ever done available for download.

  • Eric Olsen

    Good point, Chris, thanks.

  • http://www.theporkstore.org Russell Fischer

    And this after Island Records sued Negativland into the ground ‘on behalf’ of U2, based on Negativland’s use of mateiral related to that bunch of Irish ‘rockers’. Another duality.

  • http://www.freemyheart.com/ an admirer of…

    interesting… might also find this interesting as well… thanks…

  • Eric Olsen

    Thanks Matthew (?), looks very interesting indeed, will follow up.

  • http://www.freemyheart.com/ an admirer of…

    No, just a visitor of his site. Matthew also linked to this site yesterday too (but for some reason the links and quote are no longer there.)

    Prince: “Regardless of industry spin, eye love my fams and thank them 4 ALL their support, even the bootleggers! Peace and Love Christ.” – Prince, 6/8/00

    Also listed temporarily here:
    (In prince’s own words on page 6 of the liner notes of his official 5cd “Crystal Ball” boxset)
    “9. Movie Star – D’Angelo’s favorite bootleg. His love 4 this track inspired its inclusion…”

    Prince has an interesting way of expressing to his fans how he feels about bootlegging. From accepting it in interviews & liner notes, to sueing one of the folks that bought the 5CD set simply because of what was mentioned in the article above. Not exactly what they teach in business school. Is the lawsuit just a way to drum up publicity for Prince’s own upcoming 3CD live album coming out this fall? Seems like a pretty cheap way of getting it in the short run, but quite expensive in the long run based on just a few of the responses here.

  • http://www.freemyheart.com/ an admirer of…

    As posted here by Prince on his official website less than 2 months ago:

    What is 4 sure, however, is that, in spite of its many claims 2 the contrary, the recording industry has yet 2 provide evidence that P2P is actually detrimental 2 music making as an artistic endeavor, and even as a commercial venture. It is worth remembering, 4 xample, that sales of music CDs actually increased when Napster was at its peak, and declined after Napster was abruptly shut down. Even economists who thought that file sharing “should b” hurting the recording industry r now xpressing their doubts, based on what they say is simply not happening.

    More importantly, many well-respected artists have sided with Internet users against corporate greed and actually use the Internet 2 promote alternative ways 2 distribute their music and reach out 2 a non-captive, legitimate audience of authentic music lovers.

    This does not mean, of course, that all 4ms of file sharing r equally innocuous. There is little doubt that, when people use the Internet as a substitute 4 radio, i.e. as a way 2 discover new music, it can help promote the work of artists. But when a young junior high school student downloads tracks off the Internet and makes CD-R copies of them that he then sells 4 $5 in the schoolyard, it hurts sales of the original CD and it’s disrespectful of the artist – regardless of how small a cut of the actual CD price the artist actually gets after all the xecutives and the middlemen in the recording industry have taken their piece of the pie.

    Still, can we really go as far as 2 say that digital technology is creating a “nation of thieves” who no longer recognize the just value of art?

    Contradiction anyone?

  • Jeremy

    Hi,
    Just read your dialog regardingPrince copyright issue. I have just been suspended from eBay for 1 year for selling an official Prince DVD which is available on many online shops like amazon, hmv etc… as well as retail shops. Obviously these people who are in charge of that holy mission are targeting independent music sellers who can not fight back easily. I make my living on Ebay and the only way i could resume is for Prince’s people to withdraw their complaint which i guess not going to happen. The DVD Prince Glory Years has even an authentic EAN number but these things do not mean anything unless you are HMV or some other big company that can defend itself. They do not even bother to provide a contact to discuss the subject with. Do you have any idea what i can do about this? Best Regards…