Universal Right Back At It Issuing A DMCA For A Reporter's Video Of Prince Fans Singing 'Purple Rain'

from the lessons-unlearned dept

In the Lenz v. Universal case, otherwise known as the Dancing Baby DMCA case, it can hardly be argued otherwise than the whole saga was wildly irritating and painfully lengthy. Years of fighting over a person’s child dancing to seconds’ worth of Prince music on video resulting in years of litigation would be bad enough. As Cathy Gellis noted in our last post on the case, the fact that the whole thing ended in a settlement before a court could answer whether or not Universal Music should be punished for issuing a DMCA without even considering whether it would be Fair Use or not only supercharged the frustration levels of everyone who realized how stupid this whole thing was. Cathy’s point in that post was in part that it was awful that the public couldn’t even get the payoff of precedent for Fair Use considerations in this whole stupid thing.

Which brings us to the present, mere weeks later, when Universal Music is right fucking back at it, having DMCA’d a journalist’s video of Prince fans in public singing Purple Rain shortly after he died.

Mere hours after the passing of Prince, thousands of fans gathered in downtown Minneapolis to pay homage to the funk icon with a massive “Purple Rain” singalong. As with any event of this magnitude, video footage and photos were immediately shared far and wide via social media by those in attendance celebrating Prince’s life and mourning his death.

Despite these harmless intentions, Universal Music, which owns rights to “Purple Rain”, has taken action against one of these videos, filmed by Star Tribune reporter Aaron Lavinsky. According to Universal, the footage violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA).

Rebuttal: no, it damn well doesn’t. This video is so obviously protected by Fair Use, likely even more so than the dancing baby video. Wherein that video was protected by its short length and obvious non-competition with Prince’s actual music, this particular video has the more clearly defined status as being a product of journalism and public commentary, not to mention its newsworthiness. After Twitter removed the video as well in response to the DMCA, Lavinsky took to the public to explain how laughable Universal’s claim is.

“This is very disturbing: Universal Music filed a DCMA takedown on a video I shot of thousands of Prince fans singing Purple Rain the night of his death,” Lavinsky commented in a tweet this week. “This was clearly fair use and UMPG and Twitter are in the wrong.”

As the post above notes, the government’s own website at the Copyright Office stipulates that news items are protected by Fair Use. Make no mistake, Universal is aware of all of this. It is in possession of the full scope and knowledge not just of Fair Use, but of how that law might apply to videos involving Prince songs. Again, this DMCA takedown comes as the ink has barely dried on Universal’s dancing baby settlement.

Whatever the hell Universal’s legal team was thinking, it seems likely that the Singing Crowd dispute will be the sequel to the Dancing Baby dispute. What a time to be alive.

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Companies: twitter, universal music

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Comments on “Universal Right Back At It Issuing A DMCA For A Reporter's Video Of Prince Fans Singing 'Purple Rain'”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Universal is right

Time will tell how well Prince’s popularity endures.

For comparison, Amazon.com lists two dozen “new” Elvis Presley albums released so far in 2018, and a total of “over 4,000” Elvis albums currently being listed for sale on Amazon. Not bad for a guy who died over 40 years ago and whose heyday was six decades ago.

This is why the record companies (along with the deceased artist’s estate) will fight tooth and nail for every scrap for essentially forever. No one is willing to cede anything to the public domain when there is still, potentially, gold to be mined.


Flakbait (profile) says:

Thanks for the ear worm

As the saying goes, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” In this case, I haven’t thought about Purple Rain or Prince in general since shortly after he died. Now, thanks to this story, I can’t get that damned song out of my head.

I will NOT, however, be acquiring a copy of any of his music and supporting the riders of his purple gravy train.

Sadly, the worse-than-the-disease cure for ear worms is to sing a song about how not large our planet is after all, but that song and its rights are currently owned by a mouse.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I don’t think you understand how this works.

According to your logic, any journalist covering any entertainment event, could safely cover it at the time. But then, at some odd undefined time later, would suddenly be required to have purchased proper licenses and/or permission to have done so in the past.

There is not even a hint of this being the case, even by massive mis-reading current copyright law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Saying no such thing. Only noting that the operative word to be considered is “use”, I.e., in what manner is a copyrighted work being used, and is that use within the ambit of 17 USC 107? It seems clear that the original video was used in the context of news reporting and, hence, within the scope of the statute. It does not follow, however, that all subsequent uses of the video are automatically a fair use. Each use must be considered individually.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

IP only exists for corporations.
Little people can not have it.
Only corporations can decide.

Until they put teeth into the DMCA this will keep going.
We have insane jacked up damages & rules allowing voices to be silenced b/c someone claims some notes in the background…
Yet when those who hold the rights & derive all the benefits want it, the rest of the world has to bear the costs for them. IP should be a double edged sword, misuse it & get cut just as deep as the little people do.

How long until someone plays a snippet of a Prince song in the background everytime Trump speaks so they can just memoryhole what was actually said by abusing IP?

Anonymous Coward says:

DMCA needs

Massive fines for big corporations who make a false takedown claim.
Currently the only cost of a takedown is by the site (be it YouTube, Twitter, FB whatever) that removes it, and to save themselves money they will often remove without seeing if really violating.
Fines (that are hefty enough to actually hurt a rich company) for false takedowns will stop big corps from automated takedown sending and partly reimburse the site that had to deal with takedown and any other people who worked to prove the takedown was wrong.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: If you can't use it responsibly then you don't get to use it

Nah, you want them to care you hit ’em with revocation of the copyright in question for abusing it and filing bogus claims.

Losing copyrights to the dreaded Public Domain for the first time in years would give them a real incentive to be damn sure they have checked and double-checked whether something is an actual violation, rather than a ‘claim it’s a violation and check later/never’.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Abolishing intellectual property

Our current IP systems are way worse than having no system at all (and they certainly do not serve the promotion of science and useful arts intended in the Constitution). But a society without IP rights will have an entirely different set of problems that will give rise to a new copyright system.

I’m looking at it now as the symptom of a larger problem: Democracy has been gamed from the beginning to be a farce. The US moved toward government by the people but isn’t yet, and as such, institutions that serve the public (e.g. public defenders, libraries, schools, public healthcare) are less maintained than those things that serve the aristocracy and corporations.

So yes, like many institutions, we’ll need to reform elections first and then abolish the current IP system for a new one that takes into consideration public access and a robust public domain.

Until then, it’s going to be a war of force, between DRM providers and crackers, between content detection algorithms and antagonistic data overlays.

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