What is the Prince Lawsuit Really About and Why is it Relevant

There seems to be a little confusion about who Prince Rogers Nelson (“Prince” the singer) is suing and why. I have seen multiple articles entitled “Prince sues Facebook users” which leads you to believe that he is suing people because they are Facebook users, which is not the case. Sorry if my take on it is boring, as a lawyer that has a comp sci degree who used to practice intellectual property law – I love this stuff.

prince complaintYou can read the entire complaint here on scribd in which he has filed a complaint against 22 individuals. A couple things to note, the plaintiff is indeed Prince and there are two individuals named as defendants and 20 others named using their online names. Prince is doing business as Controversy Music and has over 600 copyright registrations. In other words he has intellectual property which are assets like any other type of property. So he hates Facebook users and is suing Facebook users right? Wrong. He is going after 22 individuals that he believes engaged in infringing on his intellectual property rights. Here is where it gets interesting and why this could be a ground breaking case that may change the online behaviour of many individuals, depending on how this case is decided.

What Are the Individuals Being Sued For?
Here is why I find it so interesting. These individuals are not being sued for making copies of his works, in other words copying his songs, but instead are being sued for linking to the songs. The defendants posted the links on Facebook pages and Blogger pages. So the link to Facebook is simply that the users posted links on some Facebook pages. These links pointed to file sharing services that have the individual songs.

Claims against Each Individual
The complaint goes on to discuss what Prince believes each individual did.

All of these individuals are accused of posting links that directed others to where the file was to a Prince copyrighted work on a file sharing service.

In the claims against each individual it does not state they were direct copyright infringers, in other words made copies of the songs and distributed. However they do claim in general that all Defendants have reproduced and distributed copies of the songs, but they do not point to any one individual. That is what is confusing, since it seems as if they are looking for a charge of contributory infringement or direct infringement from a link to a songs source even if they have not had any control over the song or the source.

Damages of $1 Million Each?
Prince is asking for all the damages he can obtain under law. The $1 Million that is being reported on is a statutory amount since he registered his copyrights federally. He is also seeking other damages including but not limited to profits.

Why is this so Interesting? Why You May Want to Be Careful

It is possible that some of these defendants may be guilty of putting links on their blogs to songs on a file sharing service and found guilty of copyright infringement but have not actually made copies, or reproduced, the actual songs. Here is part of the claim that is most interesting:

prince sues

“When Defendants posted the infringing and bootlegged material to their blogs and Facebook accounts, they knew that the users of those blogs and accounts would download such material in violation of Prince’s rights.”

What does this mean for you? If these individuals are found guilty of copyright infringement by placing a link on their web page that points to copyrighted material, knowing it is copyrighted material, then you better:

Be careful what you link to.

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