Prince Filed a $22 Million Copyright Lawsuit, Then Revoked It

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The music artist known as Prince has a prior history of filing lawsuits to protect his music and his name.  His most recent suit concerns videos from his concerts on videos and blog sites.  However, after receiving negative feedback from his fans over the lawsuit, Prince was dropped his lawsuit.  Nonetheless, examining his claims will be a useful exercise in understanding what video content on the Internet can constitute copyright infringement or anti-bootlegging violations.

Prince filed this action in the Northern District of California on January 16, 2014.  He named 10 defendants, two by name and twenty John Does who are identified by their online identities.  He also cited to Google Blogger and Facebook pages which contained links to file sharing services where users could download unauthorized copies of Prince’s live performance.  Prince also accuses the defendants of working in concert to distribute the bootleg copies of the live performances.

All of Prince’s songs were wisely registered with the United States Copyright Office.  In the complaint, Prince’s attorney methodically listed every defendant, the songs they shared, and the registration number for the copyright in each song.  Since the songs are registered, Prince had a choice of seeking statutory damages (up to $250,000 for each act of infringement) or actual damages like lost profits.  At the early pleading stage, Prince claimed both types of damages at $1 million per defendant, but if the suit continues he would have had to choose one or the other.

There are a couple issues Prince would have had to navigate if he continued with the lawsuit.  First, is not easy to discover the identities of the John Does he listed.  Even if the websites had their real identities the internet service providers may not release that information.  There are special motions a plaintiff can file to compel an internet service provider to release a user’s information but the standards vary between different jurisdictions.  Secondly, Prince would have to discover how many illegal copies were made for statutory damages or be able to justify his $1 million demand for lost profits.  A judge will pay close attention in both instances so a copyright attorney must be meticulous.

So what lessons can be learned?  As a consumer, it is important to avoid illegal downloads as artists are frequently able to identify users sharing and downloading copyrighted files.  As a celebrity, it is important to consider the bad publicity these kinds of lawsuits generate.  Since Prince has retracted the suit, he clearly underestimated the backlash from his fans.  A seasoned attorney will weigh these options with you before filing a lawsuit.

If you, or your business, need assistance in any copyright issues you can contact Stone Law at 732-444-6303 or leave us a message on our website.