Copyright

by Timothy Geigner


Filed Under:
copyright, dmca, fair use, prince

Companies:
twitter, universal music



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.


Reader Comments

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  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 8:02am

    Evidence for the necessity of DMCA repeal continues to mount. As long as it's on the books, publishing interests will continue doing this simply because they can. The only real way to fix this is to make it so they no longer can.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 8:08am

    It's Miiiiiiiiiine

    I would not be surprised if Universal isn't using the video to hunt down each and every person who participated in that musical homage with the intent on suing them for an unlicensed public performance of their IP. They might not win, but they will MAKE THEIR POINT, come hell or high water.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2018 @ 9:29am

    Whatever the hell Universal's legal team was thinking

    Job security, first and foremost.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Gary (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 9:42am

    Job 1

    They are driving home the point that there ain't no fair use in their opinion. Every lawsuit they file hammers that point home.
    News articles are fair use - but hey those singers didn't have a performance license!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 5:55pm

      Re: Job 1

      News articles are fair use currently

      I've no doubt that if they thought they could get away with it they'd try to charge for that too.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    DOlz, 30 Jul 2018 @ 9:46am

    Universal is right

    After seeing that video I no longer felt the need to buy any more of Prince’s music. After all I’d just gotten it all for free in that short clip.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Thad, 30 Jul 2018 @ 10:01am

      Re: Universal is right

      But if people don't pay for Prince's music, they take away his incentive to make more!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2018 @ 10:10am

        Re: Re: Universal is right

        Exactly! I'm especially looking forward to his farewell album 70 years from now.

        70 years of singing with angels and exposure to otherworldly music should make for a truly transcendent final album. People will be dying to get their hands on it!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2018 @ 11:18am

          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.

          https://www.amazon.com/s/?rh=n%3A5174%2Cp_32%3AElvis+Presley&qid=1532972431

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Ninja (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 12:31pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Universal is right

            If each album feature 2 songs then he made 1 song every two days! He certainly needs more protection to keep making more great songs!

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Michael, 30 Jul 2018 @ 11:02am

      Re: Universal is right

      After hearing about the lawsuit, I no longer felt the need to buy any more of Prince's music. After all, I'd just gotten sick over the stupidity of the company that now benefits from his incentive to produce more music after his death.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Flakbait (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 11:01am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 12:15pm

      A small, small world

      I wonder if a father's hand-cam video of his toddler daughter (and twenty others) singing that song posted on YouTube or Facebook would get a rapid takedown by Mouse lawyers.

      They're already legendary for attacking nursery murals.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ShadowNinja (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 11:09am

    Stuff like this are why I think it's inevitable that the pendulum is going to swing hard against IP holders in the future.

    Stuff like this is much more visible to the public.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2018 @ 12:26pm

    Doubtless the clip was within the province of fair use two years ago when Prince passed. Not at all clear the clip still retains its past newsworthy character, so a declaration that fair use currently applies may be premature.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gwiz (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 2:08pm

      Re:

      Not at all clear the clip still retains its past newsworthy character....

      I don't believe that is how that works - things don't lose their "newsworthiness" just because X amount of time has passed.

      But, that is a moot point now anyways: Universal's decision to issue a DMCA on it has made it newsworthy all over again.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2018 @ 2:19pm

      Re:

      This is an incredibly dumb thought.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2018 @ 2:57pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2018 @ 3:01pm

        Re: Re:

        Not to mention that has to be one of the most idiotic things I've ever heard. News never loses its newsworthiness. It goes from news to recorded history of things that happened. What you're basically saying is you want to lock up history behind a copyright paywall.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2018 @ 5:05pm

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Canuck, 30 Jul 2018 @ 5:44pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Now you're trying to move the goalposts. You said "newsworthy character", but now you're focusing on "use". Old news is still news. And any use of that video will be for news or commentary and clearly fair use.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 30 Jul 2018 @ 1:20pm

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2018 @ 1:52pm

    God, all fucking mighty! is there a single part of any of the entertainment industries that ISN'T a complete fucking asshole??

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Jul 2018 @ 6:45pm

    If people "pirate" his shit, how will he make a living from his grave?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2018 @ 2:43am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 31 Jul 2018 @ 4:54am

      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'.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2018 @ 6:40am

    Abolish Copyright

    Period.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 31 Jul 2018 @ 9:46am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Snape (profile), 31 Jul 2018 @ 6:59am

    "Again, this DMCA takedown comes as the ink has barely dried on Universal's dancing baby settlement."

    What kind of ink does the court use that takes more than three months to dry?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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