April 22, 2011 9:10am PT by Eriq Gardner
Prince Wants Laws Changed To Eliminate Song Covers (Video)
Prince has had a long and successful career in the music business. He's also made an art form out of being a copyright provocateur. The latest comes in an interview with George Lopez in which he tells the talk show host why the law should be changed so that nobody else in music can create cover versions of his hit songs, including "Kiss" and "Purple Rain."
One would think that Prince might have some sympathy for looser intellectual property laws after the singer famously had to change his name to a symbol for some time in the 1990s, because as legend goes, Warner Bros. held rights to "Prince" when the artist was under contract to the label.
Instead, Prince has picked all sorts of legal fights over his rights, including with his own fans over use of his image on fan sites. Perhaps most importantly in entertainment law circles, after Prince went crazy when spotting a toddler dancing to his song "Let's Go Crazy" in a YouTube video, Universal Music filed a takedown request. Later, after the video was removed, the video's creator sued Universal Music and established some precedent that copyright owners must consider "fair use" before sending takedowns.
Earlier this week, on George Lopez' program, Prince decries the law that allows cover versions of songs.
"My problem is when the industry covers the music," says Prince. "There's this thing called compulsory licensing law that allows artists through the record companies to take your music at will without your permission. And that doesn't exist in any other art form, be it books, movies -- There's only one version of 'Law & Order.' There's several versions of 'Kiss' and 'Purple Rain."
Prince is wrong. There's compulsory licensing in other media. For example, the cable industry has complicated compulsory licensing rules (e.g. Section 111 of the Copyright Act), so that if a cable television system wanted to retransmit its own broadcast signal to allow a customer to get a stronger feed of channels playing "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" or "Law & Order: LA" or "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," it could do so without facing liability. He probably means the ability to control "derivative" versions, although there's plenty of "fair use" exceptions in literature and filmmaking there as well.
Besides, didn't Prince himself do a cover version of Radiohead's "Creep" at the Coachella Music Festival a few years back? Ironically, to Radiohead singer Thom Yorke's displeasure, Prince then got his cover version removed from YouTube.
Here's Prince's talk with Lopez: