Prince Sues Musicians For Making A Tribute Album For His Birthday

from the happy-birthday! dept

It’s been really disappointing watching how Prince has squandered what had been seen as a enlightened view of how music works in this day and age. Instead of continuing to embrace that, and use it to his advantage, Prince has become fantastically anti-fan, and day-by-day seems to be destroying his reputation. It started with threatening fan sites, quickly followed up by lawsuits against YouTube, eBay and the Pirate Bay, and more recently has involved a bizarre and ill-advised strategy of taking down YouTube videos that he probably had no right to take down.

The latest case involves fifty Norwegian musicians, who teamed up with a Norwegian record label to create what they thought was a nice 50th birthday present for Prince: a “tribute” album with 81 covers of Prince songs. They figured that it would be a nice gesture to send Prince a copy, and contacted his representatives to figure out where to send a copy. What they didn’t expect was for Prince, instead, to turn around and sue the label and all fifty musicians. He’s also demanding that all copies of the album be destroyed.

There is a question of compulsory licenses here — as Norway requires about $0.10/song, and with 81 songs, that’s about $8 per album. The label (potentially incorrectly) believed that since it wasn’t making any money on the album, it didn’t need to pay. Even if the album ran afoul of copyright laws, this response from Prince is just dumb. Here are a group of musicians who are paying tribute to him, and he sues them. What better way to piss off a group of truly devoted fans?

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Comments on “Prince Sues Musicians For Making A Tribute Album For His Birthday”

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grandpa says:


Prince has every right to sue these beserkers for covering so many of his songs without permission. What if they butchered them, thereby defiling his art work and thus hurting his branded position. Intellectual property rights and copyrights do not just vanish because somebody calls it a ‘birthday tribute.’ How stupid are these people, and how stupid is the writer of this article for interpreting Prince’s defensive actions as ‘dumb’ and ‘anti-fan’. I’m a fan and have no qualms with Prince’s response to these freeloaders. Time to grow up and write your own music if you want to record.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Re: Thieves

Re: Mike
“What better way to piss off a group of truly devoted fans?”
.. Can’t really think of many better ways to piss off fans.

Re: grandpa
You must have missed the part where they intended to make no profit from this at all. It was a tribute to Prince. Even if Prince does have the right, that does not mean it is in his best interest to take full use of that right. Time for you to grow up and understand that there can be more to being a dan than simply liking the music. You may be a fan, but you have nothing on those Norwegians. They are bigger fans than you obviously ever will be. Although, I would be shocked if they are still fans after this. As for your comment about what if they butchered the songs. So be it. If they do, nobody will like their music and nobody will listen to it. Simple. You make it sound like once these are released nobody can listen to the originals or something.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Killer_Tofu is lame

It would be impossible for them to be theives unless perhaps it was a painting and they took the physical painting itself.
Otherwise the worst they could have done would be to copyright infringe, and that is not stealing.
Your “grandpa” moniker suits you well as it assists with conveying your lack of knowledge in the topic matter.

And if I did write music, rest assured I would be glad if others took the time to do covers and other such derivative work. Thrilled in fact. It is a sign that they like my music. Even if I hated their derivative works, at least their hearts are in the right place. Not to mention they went through much more trouble than most fans ever would to show appreciation, and that says a lot about them. I would be honored indeed. And you are right, I probably would write them a letter thanking them.

However, I have assisted with a few small parts in open source software. Nothing major, but it was used, and I did have somebody once use my addition to add on a feature. I thought it was a stupid feature, but I was pretty darn happy that I enabled that. I am sure that counts close enough.

Then again, using the grandpa name, and making such arguments, I am sure you will toss out source programming as an exception and claim that it doesn’t count. Which, if you do, it will only make you appear further out of touch with the way things are. Not will be, but are. No matter how much people like Prince fight it, you can’t tell 80% of the population they are criminals. It only points out shoddy laws that need to be updated to the times.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Thieves

it doesn’t matter if they didn’t want to make any money for it, they still had to pay royalties. This isn’t being anti-fan, these fans just weren’t using their heads. If they planned to sell or even give away these CDs, then they had to pay for the rights to use the songs!!!

Fushta says:

Re: Re: Re: Thieves

You do not have to pay royalties to cover a song. If you want to sell the song in the marketplace, maybe, but not if you are just covering a song in a concert.

How many times have to seen a band cover a song in their concert off the cuff? Do you really think they paid for the royalties or even got permission to do it?

John says:

Re: Thieves

They don’t need his permission. With a compulsory license, a government forces the holder of a patent, copyright, or other exclusive right to grant use to the state or others – they just need to pay the fee. Now, not paying the fee was incredibly stupid on their part, and C+C Records should have known that. Since Norway does have a compulsory license law, for Prince to ask for anything other than the owed license fee – and possibly damages – just makes him look petty and vindictive.

mike allen says:

Re: Thieves

Actually You are wrong any one can record any one elses music with their own arrangement many have ove the yearsPrince has no right to sue over this anfd certainly not demand the album be taken down
a short list of songs covered by other artists
Buddy Holly Oh Boy covered by rolling stones
Beatles various songs
Michale covered by the overlanders
obla de obla da marmalade
many done in a clasical style by london philharmonic
i wont go on or mike will need to buy more bandwidth.
you do not understand the music business grandpa.

monkey3 says:

Re: Thieves

You obviously have not read the recent piece about prince and Radiohead. If prince is going to try to claim copyright on a cover he did of a Radiohead song to prevent it going on Youtube, then he has no recourse whatsoever to go after people who do tributes of his own music; especially considering the fact that prince was paid for the live performance in which he played that Radiohead song.

JS Beckerist (profile) says:

Re: Thieves

Um, it’s called a tribute album. They aren’t making money off of it, so they aren’t freeloaders. They paid for all expenses out of pocket, and the musicians were eating the cost of the time and energy they spent.

Personally, I’m all for covers and remixes, I believe that you can truly create a new and beautiful song using and existing foundation. Do you think that sitting women were never a subject for artists before Da Vinci came along?

Prince is a talented musician, but that doesn’t have any bearing on his credentials as a copyright lawyer… or a winner for that matter…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Thieves

Prince has every right to sue these beserkers for covering so many of his songs without permission. What if they butchered them, thereby defiling his art work and thus hurting his branded position. Intellectual property rights and copyrights do not just vanish because somebody calls it a ‘birthday tribute.’

Um, no one said that he didn’t have a right. I believe Mike said that it was dumb to piss off your fans. That IS dumb. That’s what happens when people listen to thier attorneys instead of thier PR reps.

He could have just had his attorney send them a letter explaining that they owe eight dollars per album for use of his material, or asked them not to devalue his music. True fans probably would have been disappointed, but otherwise okay. A lightning lawsuit was not the best PR response.

Freedom says:

Re: Thieves

The concept of Intellectual property is a terrorism of the mind. Its a terrorism grounded on repression of what is possible. The sooner they eradicate IP laws, the better off society as a whole will be. Sharing, copying and collaborating is as much a part of the human condition as breathing. We will not have true freedom of speech until IP laws are dismantled.

Gary S. says:

Re: Re: Smithsonian

Thank you for the address.

If anyone is curious, here’s my talking points. I recommend you write in too.

* Distinction of the Artist’s “Work” vs “Brand” (Prince’s Work is being promoted, while he is still a Brand.)
* The Brand is protecting it’s Brand Image.
* The Smithsonian is reserved for National treasures to be shared.
* Actions show prince is not a national treasure but a business and brand.
* Actions of suing parents, kids, anyone who threatens the Brand, and sales of the works.

Most importantly:
* Does the Smithsonian want to be associated with a “Brand” that’s actively in litigation? And conversely, should Prince be associated with the good will of Smithsonian?

I will request clarification from Mr. Clough:
* Does a blatant attempt to maintain a “brand image” while being recognized as a national treasure go against the core ideas of a National Treasure and the Concept of the Smithsonian as a whole?
* Should the Smithsonian continue to accept and promote “National Treasures” which are still in Production?

Gary S. says:

Re: Re: Re: Smithsonian

I want to clarify:
* Actions of suing parents, kids, anyone who threatens the Brand, and sales of the works.

Should read:
* Actions of suing parents, kids, anyone who threatens the Brand, including creating derivative works, without profit. Including legal action against derivative works created in other sovereign nations. (WTF!!)

DanC says:

Re: music business

Looks like this f’d up model of FREE MUSIC doesn’t work very well.

The Norwegians mistakenly believed since the album was not for profit, they didn’t have to pay the compulsory license fee. Anyway you look at it, that isn’t a business model of any kind. It was simply a mistake. Nice try though.

FREE music doesn’t benifit anyone but the thiefs. Period.

You really don’t know or understand what you’re talking about.

Jason (profile) says:

Grandpa, your a coward and an idiot!

If that many bands took the time to make an album that they didn’t make money off of, he should be honored. Even if they did horrible on the songs they took a lot of their time to show how much they like the artist. Prince’s response is an insult anyway you look at it. If he is that hard up for money, he will be even more now that people see the true side of him.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: You little meth heads just don't think things through.

Morons, all of you.

Lets say that you (and I mean you, little Jason) set up a lemonade stand and start selling to make a living. I guess it wouldn’t bother you if lots of people set up stands and gave the drinks away for free! And it probably wouldn’t bother you that they stole YOUR lemonade.

I tried to keep the example simple, because you’re a simpleton.

Shaun says:

Re: Re: You little meth heads just don't think things through.

Actually this is almost a good analogy except just add a magic machine that produces the lemonade at no cost and drop the stealing bit. Rather than stealing it would be more like they buy a lemonade off you and use it in their own magic copying machine to make more lemonade and give it away for free. Obviously you would be stupid to try to make a living off something that everyone else can copy at no cost.

Bobino Boberman says:

Re: Re: You little meth heads just don't think things through.

I believe your analogy is wrong and overly simplistic, even for a bufoon such as your self.

This is the correct analogy.
Pretend you moved out of your dead uncle’s garage. You decided to start a lemonade stand.
Now 80 people in the surrounding neighborhood,s from where you live in your cardboard box, really liked your lemonade!
They decided to start sharing some of that lemonade with others. That is how much they loved your lemonade! When they ran out of lemonade, some were so inspired by your lemonade that they made lemonade of their own. They gave that lemonade away and said, ‘Hey if you like my lemonade, go buy some from the homeless man in the box’.

That would be the correct analogy. Would you be ticked when new fans, who may never had known you even had a lemonade stand outside your box, started buying from you? You might, but a sane person would be ecstatic.

ehrichweiss says:

really sucks..

First the Jehovah’s Witness thing and now these past few tirades against people who seem to actually like him, well it’s enough that I’m not buying anything new from him for a while. His only hope now is to die so that his stuff will be worth something again.

I was one of his biggest fans but now he’s nearing an EPIC FAIL on the same level as Metallica, and I’ll do the same to him as I did to them, sell all my collection and wipe any mp3’s from my list, never to be heard in the household again and he can just keep searching for the purple banana.

dru says:


Prince who? The artist formerly known as ^ ?
First off, that they found 50 “artists” who would do cover songs of Prince is highly suspect.
Let me say this simply. PRINCE SUCKS!
Prince knows this. He wants the albums (CDs) destroyed to prevent the joke that is his music from being released into the wild, which will confirm what I already said. PRINCE SUCKS!
He is actually doing us all a favor by blocking the release.

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

Indifference vs Antagonism

One might forgive some artists for finding an audience’s attentions an irritation, and to attempt to remain indifferent and aloof to their affections and tributes.

However, when an artist actually attacks their audience, and artists among them, for nothing more than enjoying, performing, sharing and building upon their art then they have truly lost sight of what it means to be an artist among artists.

They have been corrupted by the cult leaders of their corporate record labels to turn against the very people who love them.

MyNameisVinceandIamFunky (user link) says:

Re: Prince Who?

I think Prince is certainly off his rocker in many ways and has gone on the other side of the purple banana. That said, while I think it is a shame that he feels it necessary to sue these folks for trying to make a tribute album, it would definitely be really challenging for me as a musician to let some group of random people steal my songs and call it a tribute.

If they were friends or people that I knew, it would be easier to take; And it’s hard to fault the guy for not taking the time to try and get to know these people or listen to the album; in the end, it’s just free publicity for them, fans or no fans, with no upside to Prince except the fact that they get to ride his coattails by performing songs and getting notoriety because of it.

I’m not sure if I would’ve outright sued without issuing a statement explaining his position, but that’s what happens when you’ve slipped on the purple banana peel one too many times.

As far as musical relevance, for me personally, while Purple Rain remains a great album, I personally think Sign of the Times is an incredible collection of his talent; so many musical styles and themes – I don’t see how it came out of one person’s head. Even the album with the squiggly symbol was pretty damned good, but obviously your mileage may vary.

Just my opinion. Respect yours. Peace.

jerm says:

freeloaders? stealing? pah!

Considering just a year ago he was GIVING away his new album in the UK, I don’t think it’s fair to call them freeloaders or say they were stealing anything.

“It’s all about giving music for the masses and [Prince] believes in spreading the music he produces to as many people as possible.”

With that kind of history I don’t think it was off-base for them to think he would be in to such a thing — both in terms of doing the covers and giving them away for free.

I don’t think it’s that a musician was pissed of about this that is surprising, it’s that it was a musical with the “free love” kidf of attitude that he showed toward his music in recent history.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Re: music

Do you even understand what stealing is?
I must admit, I am almost getting tired of explaining this to new people. Almost.

It is NOT stealing. Stealing would be if you owned a car, and I took it. You can no longer use the car, because it is a physical tangible good, and gone because I took it. If somebody downloads a song, does the songwriter or musician no longer have it? Nope, they still have it. So it is not stealing because it is not a tangible good. It is not an act of theft. It is copyright infringement. What was the RIAA suing dead people over? Stealing stuff? Nope. They are trying to sue over Copyright Infringement. Whether they even have any grounds for this is not the point of discussion, I am just showing that even your beloved heros that 99% of the world hates know the difference between stealing and copyright infringement. Although, that doesn’t mean that they haven’t tried to muck up the waters and tried to say that it is stealing. But still, no judge has ever agreed in any sort of way that it is stealing anyways.

Calling it stealing just makes you look ignant, and removes credibility from the rest of your argument.

Anonymous Coward says:

You guys are killing me! All of the things you call anti-fan are examples where LAWS are being BROKEN!!! This isn’t like he’s randomly attacking people who just say his name in a courtyard, people are abusing copyrighted works and not getting permission first.

The guy doesn’t need money, he’s so sick with cash that he could disappear, but that’s not the point… EVERY artist should be doing what he is doing because it is their right to do so under the laws.

Rose M. Welch says:

Re: Re:

Yes, but the law is ‘Pay money, or don’t distribute.’. So all they need to do is pay the money; nobody disagrees with that.

But he wants all copies destroyed and is all angry dude about this tribute. That’s bad PR and bad for any future sales of anything.

Economically speaking, his lawsuit is a bummer.

That’s the point of the article, idiots.

Relonar says:

Yeah, he was in the right when filing the suit if the label did not pay the license fees. Yeah, it sorta makes him look like an asshat. Yeah, this is another example of why government granted monopolies need short term limits, in my opinion. Hey looks like a good time to rant.

I believe in a more academic view when in comes to music, tech, etc., (any idea that the govt. and corporate says can be ‘owned’).
In my opinion this is how I would have it work.
If you create a song that is completely new, and then go and record this song, register and secure a copyright on the recording (re-read that last part and let it sink in) then you are entitled to protect that recording no matter the medium or encoding. You alone should be allowed to license this recording for distribution. When a work is created for pay, then the employer holds this grant.
This license should be allowed to expire in a reasonable amount of time.

The lyrics and musical score (or any other source idea) registered and a copyright is secured separate from the recorded information. This is how cover licenses are taken care of. and again this grant is allowed to expire.

Radio services would acquire a license to distribute recoded information to anyone tuning in at that time. This is why recording something off radio works fine in this model.

An end-user licenses holder is allowed to make backup copies of recorded information. This would consumers to keep plastic discs, backup HD’s, and other of the sort while still being able to keep a cd in their car, and a file on their iPod or device of their choice. The holder of and end-user license should be able to transfer that license (first sale stuff)

A person who is licensed to distribute recorded information can’t make up BS EUL agreements (i.e. software distributors really go to town on that stuff).

Public Performance rights are dealt with the same way as radio, and should only be required is the audience is large enough for the duration of a given time frame (licensing music to be looped in your store). Blasting your radio while you work, or looping radio through a PA system does not require a license, since the radio operator has already acquired one.

Cover recordings and performances are allowed when the separate lyrics/score are licensed. These licenses should not be able to be revoked or transferred.

License agreements can be made between distributors and cover artists, but not to extend the period of protection.

All that really doesn’t matter after the grant expires.

… omg. that’s why this is so f(* up!
still overly simplified, no fair use yet, doesn’t distinguish between commercial and non-commercial, but this shit is making my head hurt. (man I’m glad i didn’t choose law)

please rip into my opinions, that’s the only way compromise works

and even in this simplified system the norway guys still screwed up. now there is still the argument of whether it was good business to sue, but…
except for the more recent stuff, this wouldn’t have been an issue if grants still expired in a decent period of time (I find ten reasonable, 25 max in my opinion)

Rose M. Welch - Doctor of Sister of Dot says:

Re: thieves

When someone writes Harry Potter fan fiction, that writer is GETTING PAID.

Oh, wait, capitol letters don’t make me right.


They covered those songs becuase they loved them, not to make money from them. They didn’t profit from them. they were not paid. And generalized statements about a specific situation only make you seem like an idiot.

C’mon now, Sister of Dot. It’s time to take your medicine and lay down for a nice nap. Here, put on your nice white jacket so you’ll be more comfortable…

Harry Potter says:

Re: wtf?

If the lawyers and music industry thought they could collect, they would charge. After all, music schools are supposed to use and pay for copyrighted sheet music. Why not the kids? After all, they have parents with enough money to buy them overpriced instruments.

The whole thing is stupid………..
Several hundred million dollars just isn’t enough for some has beens.
It makes me sick.

cvpunk says:

Re: Re: wtf?

I sort of see your point about the sheet music.. although anyone can walk into a book store or Guitar Center and buy sheet music… not just schools and teachers. But, reproducing that music in your garage for fun should not be grounds for a law suit. That is what I am saying… and that is basically what these people did, didn’t they?
I mean, they obviously enjoy Prince’s music (for whatever reason) so for “fun” and to pay “tribute” (not to make a profit) they “reproduced” his music. It’s the same thing really.
Now, on the other hand if these people were doing this to make money and Prince was not seeing any of that money.. I could see the problem.

maybe I am just biased since once in a while my friends and I find it fun to play some music from bands we like.

Fred Waters says:

Re: Re: wtf?

If you ever wonder why your child’s junior and senior high school choirs and bands perform songs mostly from before the 20th century — no copyright bullshit, except for the printed sheet music. When you play Beethoven, you can just play it and enjoy it, no performance license, no royalties, no bullshit. No welfare payments made to the great-great-great-great-grandchildren of Beethoven. Unlike now, when I sing “Happy Birthday” in public, I might have to pay multiple royalties to dead people.

the wise one says:

picture this

Imagine ur favorite song. The one you hold dear. The one that stops ur day and takes u to a place and time that’s only yours. Now imagine it as the next budweiser jingle, ring tone, rap song, kiddy song, car commercial, political theme song, exercise video…
Now, would u pay $10 to keep that from happening? Can u hear me now?

Btw he may be a divo, but he is genius.

Bill M (profile) says:

Don’t forget that Prince recently gave away one of his albums in a move that didn’t make a lot of record execs happy. I highly doubt this has anything to do with money. Maybe it has more to do with how “Nothing Compares 2u” was butchered on the compilation? Who knows. He has the right to do what he wants with his licenses. And the folks in Norway would have the right to cover his stuff if they paid the license fees, but they didn’t.

Overtkill says:


To coin a phrase, They are all becoming pilfering grab-asses!

Free music is not the choice that will win either. Instead, perhaps the “pay what you want” model might be the way to go as more and more bands leave behind the big labels.

Its a pity to see such a talented musician (the man can play more instruments than you have fingers) resort to such measures, like Metallica.

Ray says:

Prince fan here!

I agree it’s all a clusterf–k. He’s a genius, and he’s in his own world. Don’t be blinded by business side of it, the boy’s got talent and spirituality to burn…how ’bout you all?

What does “relevant music” mean? Listen to the lyrics of the song “Planet Earth” off his newest album…which he GAVE AWAY two million copies to…

Why the pissing matches between people here? Seems like a bi-polar freak show to me.

Peace, y’all…PEACE!

Mikey Frizz (user link) says:

musician's perspective....

Personally, I’d be flattered if someone made a tribute album for me! NOT that I’m good enough for that or anything, but seriously. With the internet, your music will be distributed for free whether you want it to or not. And with the internet, people can do basically whatever they want with your music. Might as well learn to get with the times, eh?

Anonymous Coward says:

Hopefully this can be the final word. The group may have been doing this as a tribute, and the project may lose money, but don’t confuse that with non-profit.

The 5-disc set sells for about $50 USD. They should have arranged the license beforehand. They should pay the $8 per disc-set to whomever owns the rights to the songs they recorded.

This isn’t about greed, or being to big of a star. It is getting what you are legally entitled to and not letting people profit from your image and creativity.

The publicity is too bad because it paints Prince in a light of cuing some poor garage band for making a tribute CD and sending it to him as a present.

That is not what happened. They put a lot of work into it, and expected to recoup some of the money spent doing it. Was there real purpose to give it as a gift literally to Prince? Who knows. But once they decided to print copies and sell it, it became a legal matter. Prince is not a jerk here, he is just being painted as one because it is an easy sell and far more interesting than the truth.


Jesus says:

Prince and his muisc

As a songwriter, I understand the frustration of seeing your work duplicated without your permission. Also, a really nice gesture would have been for those musicians and the label to call and get permission BEFORE they recreated the music. For those who don’t create, it’s extremely easy to criticize those who make a living from creating a product that others see as their own.

Beardy says:


I hereby give public notice that I will be suing The Prince Formerly Known as an Artist; I have facial hair, and he has facial hair, but as he’s being a dick, his facial hair is devaluing my facial hair. Technically, he’s stealing my mojo, and I won’t rest until he has removed his facial hair and promised never to re-grow it lest he harm the image of my facial hair.

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