Prince Sues 22 Fans For $1 Million Each For Linking To Bootlegs In Laughably Confused Complaint

from the someone-needs-to-find-a-better-lawyer dept

There was a time, not even that long ago, when it seemed like Prince might have been the first musician to actually “get” the internet. He had done a few things that seemed really focused on embracing the internet, spreading his music more widely, and making revenue from alternate streams, such as concerts, sponsorships and fan clubs. But… it quickly became apparent that he was going in the other direction, and in an extreme manner — in part, because it seemed like for all of his ideas, he failed at following through on most of them. Then, rather than blaming his own lack of execution, he seemed to lash out at the internet in almost every way possible. He insisted that the internet was over and that he’d never put any of his music online. He even claimed that digital music was bad for your brain.

He’s also gone legal a bunch of times, suing a bunch of websites, threatening fan sites for posting photos and album covers on their sites, suing musicians for creating a tribute album for his birthday, issuing DMCA takedowns for videos that have his barely audible music playing in the background and 6-second Vine clips that are clearly fair use.

Given that, many may not be surprised about his his latest lawsuit against 22 fans who posted links to apparent bootleg recordings of Prince concerts, suing each of them for $1 million. However, the lawsuit takes it all up a notch from the insanity of his earlier actions. The lawsuit was first spotted by Antiquiet and got some attention from Spin, though neither seem to understand just how nutty the lawsuit actually is. Spin, incorrectly, claims he’s suing “webmasters,” but even that’s not true. He’s suing a bunch of users of Google’s blogger platform and Facebook for linking to apparent bootlegs.

And that’s not even the most bizarre part of the lawsuit. The lawyer who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Prince, Rhonda Trotter, claims to be an expert in copyright law, but you wouldn’t get that from reading the lawsuit. First off, the main charge is for direct copyright infringement, but nothing in the complaint actually describes direct copyright infringement. At best (and even this is a stretch), you could argue that linking to files, all hosted on other sites, represents indirect infringement. Multiple courts have repeatedly made clear that linking is, at best, indirect infringement. And this lawsuit was filed in the Northern District of California, meaning it’s in the 9th Circuit, which decided the Perfect 10 v. Amazon case that very clearly says that linking is not direct infringement. You’d think a copyright lawyer — especially one based in the 9th circuit — would know that.

Then there’s the fact that Prince is suing each of the defendants for $1 million. The complaint seems quite confused about what it can ask for. While it does point to 17 USC 504, which lays out the damages that an infringer may be liable for, Trotter doesn’t seem to understand how that section of the law works. It’s pretty clear upfront that you get to ask for either “actual” damages or statutory damages. Most people ask for statutory damages, which can range from $750 to $150,000 per work infringed. Note that this is less than $1 million. How Trotter gets this up to $1 million seems to be… well… by magic:

In addition, Prince has suffered and is continuing to suffer damages in an amount according to proof, but no less than $1 million per Defendant and, in addition, is entitled to recover from Defendants costs and attorneys’ fees pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 505.

Prince is also entitled to recover statutory damages pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 504 in an amount according to proof, but no less than $1 million per Defendant.

So… that first paragraph suggests there’s some made up formula, by which they’re going to claim that he’s suffering actual damages over $1 million — an argument that would almost certainly be laughed out of court, because proving actual damages in copyright infringement is no easy feat — especially when it’s a fan linking to a bootleg, where the “damage” is likely to be next to nothing. But then the lawsuit seems to incorrectly suggest that they can also get statutory damages. But you can’t. The law is pretty explicit that it’s an either-or thing. A copyright lawyer should know that. A copyright lawyer should also know that the limit on statutory damages is $150,000 per work. It is true that some defendants are listed as linking to multiple songs, so you could try to add up the $150k on each to get over a million, but at least one of the defendants is only accused of sharing 3 songs, which would cap the possible damages at $450k. But not in this lawsuit.

Oh yeah, and to get over $30,000, of course, you have to show willful infringement. The lawsuit claims that the “defendants’ actions are and have been willful within the meaning of 17 U.S.C. § 504(2).” That’s interesting and all, especially since there is no such section in the law. Trotter almost certainly means 17 USC 504(c)(2), but leaving out the (c) kind of shows just how ridiculously confused and sloppy the entire lawsuit is.

But even stepping back from how poorly drafted the complaint is, let’s take a step back and ask the basic question: what sort of musician, in this day and age, thinks it makes sense to sue nearly two dozen fans for sharing bootlegs of their music on the internet — an action that tends to be both the pinnacle of fandom, combined with almost certainly no actual loss of revenue. Fans interested in bootlegs tend to be the kinds of fans who buy everything and spend tons of money on live shows as well.

Once again, this seems to just be the nutty mind of Prince in action, concerning his ridiculous desire to control absolutely everything combined with someone who is not entirely in touch with reality. Every time I hear a story like this about Prince, I’m reminded of Kevin Smith’s absolutely hilarious story about his experience with “Prince World.”

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Comments on “Prince Sues 22 Fans For $1 Million Each For Linking To Bootlegs In Laughably Confused Complaint”

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66 Comments
Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

An actual letter to his attorney

I just sent this off to Rhonda Trotter:

Dear Rhonda,

I’m writing to you in reference to your filed lawsuit representing Prince
Rogers Nelson v Dan Chodera et al.

I write to inform you that I too have personally done many of the things
you allege in your lawsuit are in violation of the law, and should be
equally named alongside the named and John Doe plaintiffs.

Naming me should be easy. I provide full contact details below.

To be specific:
1. I use google.
2. I use facebook.
3. I use blogger.
4. I use song links.
5. I write to other people about song links and I read when other people
write about song links.
6. I’ve acted in concerts many times.
7. I’ve entered into joint ventures and have been employed and employed others.
8. I’ve been to California many times, as recently as December 2013. During that
time I did items 1-5 repeatedly.
9. I have bootlegged many items. Some repeatedly. Once a bottle broke and ran
down my leg.

I couldn’t stand idly by and allow other guilty people to be named while I
stood idly by.

Yours truly,

Ehud Gavron
[ADDRESS REDACTED]
(This is where I live, and tell the process server not to scare the neighors.)

[PHONE# REDACTED]
(this is not where I live, but you can reach me at this number to send me
threatening telefacsimile messages or threatening voice messages. Please don’t
mind the Prince background music… that’s just to keep people from staying awake.)

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I hope the court allows this to move forward, if only to expose how they got to the magic numbers they claimed to have lost out on.
It would be nice once and for all to kill the myth that imaginary money exists because they said so, making them actually prove those numbers, and the subsequent shredding of those numbers would be helpful.

It is stupid over reaching cases like this that make debunking the claims of the copyright cartels easier. Game on.

Anonymous Coward says:

My guess...

My guess is that Prince just wanted another camel at 3AM, and this attorney decided she might as well get paid for it.

Prince: “I want to sue them for $1M!”

Attorney: “well, actually the law says that…”

Prince: “I don’t care – I want a million dollars from each of them. Make a lawsuit that does that.”

Attorney: “*sigh* OK.”

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: My guess...

That’s not really true.

A good attorney is going to give advice to their client, but will act as their advocate even in the presence of idiocy.

They are supposed to do that, and, particularly in the entertainment business, an attorney needs a reputation of acting on behalf of their clients regardless of how dumb their client acts far more than they need a reputation of being scrupulous.

Dark Moe (profile) says:

Prince was a newcomer when I was younger. Never could see the fascination with the guy. I suppose he might have had “some” talent, but it never tickled my ears like many other artists did. So, for me, he was take-it or leave-it, and I just never took it.

But there are those who did take it, and remained loyal fans to his genre. Some say the old timers who like his style keep hangin’ on out of the memories of their youth. They went to his concerts and made him what he is today. I’m not sure what that is, but it is something, or so he thinks.

And therein lies the mystery to all of this.

The fan base is what makes the artist who he is. Linking to a bootlegged concert is most likely the best free advertising for an old, dated and decrepit singing career that anyone could ever ask for. People who like his genre did what they did out of respect for him, not to steal from him. They did what they did out of a love for his style, not because they wanted something for free. And for Prince to come back now and sue the very people who like him and adore him enough to even think of linking to a bootlegged concert feed … he’s out of his mind.

So yes, Prince. Ruin the lives of those who made you who you are, whatever that may be. Get your drooling lawyers lined up and punch the living daylights out of whatever fan base you may have left. Soon that Little Red Corvette will be worthless as a direct result of your own doing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Controversy

How Delirious is Prince? The whole Controversy is stupid as it is Scandalous.

I mean come on, welcome to the age of the internet. It’s 2014, people, not 1999! It’s the Sign o’ the Times. People who appreciate your talent want to share with others.

Please remember.. these are your fans! They’re not Thieves in the Temple, here to steal your Diamonds and Pearls… Hell, you’ve got your fans asking “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?”. And if you’re not careful, you’ll be crying, contemplating When You Were Mine.

OK. I’m done. There’s so much more I could add, but just don’t have the time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What kind of bootleg?

A bootleg is an unauthorized audio or video recording of a performance that is then shared with other fans of the artist. Quality is generally no where near that of the studio recordings so they don’t generally replace the real thing. Instead they are generally listened to by more dedicated fans who listen for changes in lyrics, differences between sets in different cities etc.

The 60’s band The Grateful Dead were famous for their dedicated fan base and that they openly allowed bootlegging of their concerts.

In general though, when you purchase the concert ticket, the terms and conditions specify no recording allowed.

And just for fun, here’s the old 70’s show Good TImes when ReRun tries to bootleg a Doobie Brothers concert with a battery powered cassette recorder?.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e3Lb7Y4_zYk

Anonymous Coward says:

In a similar incident, Quentin Tarantino’s script to his next movie, the Hateful Eight, leaked and Gawker put up a story linking to two external locations where the file was hosted.

Tarantino’s lawyer, Marty Singer is suing Gawker directly – and here’s his reasoning:
—–
According to the complaint, “Their headline boasts… ‘Here,’ not someplace else, but ‘Here’ on the Gawker website. The article then contains multiple direct links for downloading the entire Screenplay through a conveniently anonymous URL by simply clicking button-links on the Gawker page, and brazenly encourages Gawker visitors to read the Screenplay illegally with the invitation to ‘Enjoy!’ it.”
—–

So even though the file is hosted elsewhere, the fact that they used the word ‘here’ in the title makes them directly liable.

I feel bad for Tarantino, that’s a crap thing to happen to him after all the work he put into it, but I can’t see that lawsuit going far if they’re spinning things so much so early.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

the area surrounded by the — is a quote from the article. It is from Tarantino’s lawyer describing why he thought Gawker was at fault.

Here’s a link to the article in question.

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/quentin-tarantino-suing-gawker-leaked-674424?utm_term=hollywoodreporter_breakingnews&utm_content=buffer99de9&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

and the Gawker article.

http://defamer.gawker.com/here-are-plot-details-from-quentin-tarantinos-leaked-1507675261

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: so I really OWN all those movies I bought years ago....

So I guess by this logic, since all the commercials say “Own it Now” when they advertise their movies licensed on physical format, that I really OWN the movie itself, not just the physical medium, and I should be free to acquire current generation copies of all the movies and songs I’ve “OWNED” over the years on various formats….

Or is this similar to the high/low court where this only works when the entertainment industry is suing individuals and not when individuals are exercising the rights that they were “SOLD” over the years?

Androgynous Cowherd says:

Ingrate

[W]hat sort of musician, in this day and age, thinks it makes sense to sue nearly two dozen fans for sharing bootlegs of their music on the internet — an action that tends to be both the pinnacle of fandom, combined with almost certainly no actual loss of revenue. Fans interested in bootlegs tend to be the kinds of fans who buy everything and spend tons of money on live shows as well.

“No actual loss of revenue” is putting it mildly. There’s probably actually a big gain of revenue here. By posting the links, those fans are likely to cause more people to accrete onto the fan base, people who will then also “buy everything and spend tons of money”.

In other words, it’s free advertising. And highly targeted. People in other industries pay top dollar for advertising that effective and that narrowly and well-targeted, and this fucking ingrate (pardon my French) gets it for free and has the gall to sue?!

jameshogg says:

Whenever I shout “http://thepiratebay.org” aloud in the street in public, I have effectively “linked” all listening passers-by to the Pirate Bay and defied a lot of court orders. Simply by stating what the link is.

Because that is what all “link” websites effectively do. People often forget that it is the CLICKER’S BROWSER that actually carries out the automatic process of copy/pasting the link into the URL bar and sending the request for the HTML.

The guy who sends the message containing the location of that link is doing nothing more than I would if I were to shout the Pirate Bay’s address in front of a crowd.

In fact, the Chilling Effects DMCA page that Google offers in relation to copyrighted content has effectively done the exact opposite of what it was intended to do, by STATING the many sites that were removed from the search pages and effectively “linking” the user in the process of stating what they are. This is preposterous.

What fool seriously thinks that because the text of a link is not an underlined hyperlink, that therefore it is not a link at all?

This is the state of affairs we are in, people. A mass delusion of wish-thinking and self-deceit. At least Charles Dickens somewhat implicitly acknowledged the impossibility of the copyright utopia. Here, we are just lying to ourselves.

Rex Rollman (profile) says:

I am a big, big Prince fan. I own every one of his albums and I think he is a musical genius, but when it comes to things like this, he is an freaking idiot. Here’s an example:

For those who don’t know, Prince is currently working with a band of three women, called 3rdEyeGirl. They have a Twitter account and Prince himself has even tweeted using it:

https://twitter.com/3rdeyegirl

Last year, that Twitter account linked to a really cool YouTube video which featured a cover of Prince’s Pop Life by Alice Smith & Citizen Cope. The tweet is here:

https://twitter.com/3RDEYEGIRL/status/325813286895493121

So what happened to it? If you go to the YouTube page now, you’ll see that Controversy Music, which is owned by Prince, took it down. That’s right, they actually took down something that he himself (or those working with him) posted a link to.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Okay, I just have to ask: Why? Why would you continue to be a fan of someone who seems hellbent on demolishing any fan participation in his music? Someone who, if his actions are any indication, believes that fans should give him money, and listen to his music, and nothing else.

You think he’s a great musician, I can get that, but why would you remain a fan of someone, after they’ve shown such utter contempt for their fans, by doing everything they can to shut down any fan participation in and with their music?

LAB (profile) says:

“Fans interested in bootlegs tend to be the kinds of fans who buy everything and spend tons of money on live shows as well.”

I couldn’t agree more. This and many of have his past copyright litigation decisions seem out of touch and ill advised. Bootlegs generally sound so crappy you’d have to be a die hard fan to listen. If he wants the links taken down that is his prerogative, but the monetary/ damages aspect is disappointing,

SHOCKADELICA says:

THESE PRINCE BOOTLEGGING FANS IS JUST THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG...

… it is.

Prince really should have gone forward with it, there obsessive psycho fans that are trading even more rarer studio material that a couple of studio hands at Prince’s Paisley Park STOLE. That’s what some has told me. Probably the whole “VAULT”.

Imagine if all of that just was released, and Prince got nothing for that work?

How would you feel if someone sneaked off with your creative work and now is trading it in the underground and slowly releasing these stolen works, live and studio, to fans?

Its disgusting.

But most people are pretty dumb and think Prince is the a-hole – when in truth, the real a holes STOLE right from Prince – STOLE… keyword.

Anonymous Coward says:

1. Prince and Universal did not sue Stephanie Lenz. she sued them!
2. It’s perfectly legitimate for a copyright plaintiff to plead in the alternative, seeking both actual damages and statutory damages. The plaintiff must eventually elect which form of damages to seek, but need not do so until the end of the case.

Larry Reid says:

Prince Needs Help

Clearly, there was a better time for him after Warner Brothers when he was getting better advice and help to make the business decisions that were landmark and genius. I guess those people are no longer with him. He needs help and perhaps he need to see if Londell McMillan would take him back and manage him again. They were great together and made history.

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