Prince Sues His Fans for $1 Million Each [UPDATED]

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Update: TMZ says Prince has withdrawn the lawsuit. According to his lawyer, “Because of the recent pressure, the bootleggers have now taken down the illegal downloads and are no longer engaging in piracy.” So all he wanted was the injunction, not the damages, apparently.

Prince is well-known for aggressively enforcing his copyright, so this is no surprise. This time, the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Know As Prince has sued 22 Facebook users for posting links to bootlegs of his concerts on Facebook, blogs, and elsewhere. (Here is the complaint.) The defendants have usernames like PurpleHouse2, PurpleKissTwo, and FunkyExperienceFour, making it look like Prince is suing some of his biggest fans.

That they might be fans would be no surprise. Even the RIAA admits that pirates are often an artist’s biggest fans. But in this case, the “pirates” are sharing bootlegs, which are by definition not available for sale at any price. If you want to hear Prince at a concert, ordinarily you would have to go to a concert.

As a copyright holder, Prince is probably well within his rights to stop the sharing of bootlegs. Those are his claims for injunctive relief — to stop the sharing. The more-interesting question is whether his claimed damages are remotely reasonable.

If the defendants really are Prince’s biggest fans, and if sharing bootlegs gets more people to buy Prince’s music or go to his concerts, then Prince has actually benefitted from the piracy. This is a favorite argument of those who favor file-sharing, and it does make a lot of sense. Even the RIAA admitted that file-sharers (“pirates”) spend substantially more money on music than those who don’t share at all:

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Here is how TorrentFreak interpreted those findings:

[A]mong 18-35 year-olds, music buying P2P users spend 40% more than those who don’t share at all. In 2011 music pirates spent $267 per capita compared to $191 for those who don’t share.

On the other hand, maybe Prince has some research that shows that his fans are less likely to buy his music, concert tickets, and merchandise as a result of the sharing of bootlegs. Given his willingness to sue his fans, that actually would not surprise me. One of the most-common responses to the news of Prince’s latest lawsuit is along the lines of knut01, a commenter on Reddit:

MAJOR mistake, Prince!! Will NEVER buy another of your recordings!!!

He or she might be willing to pirate Prince’s recordings in the future, though. That would be an entirely predictable result of treating fans like criminals, in which case one might argue that Prince is only hurting himself.

As an artist, Prince probably has (and should have) the right to decide whether or not he wants to allow the sharing of bootlegs. But if the sharing of bootlegs has actually resulted in a benefit to Prince — more sales of music, concert tickets, and merchandise — should he also be allowed to profit from it by suing for damages?