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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Filed Under: copyright, dmca, fair use, prince
Companies: twitter, universal music


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  1. 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.

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