It's a familiar story: A fan uploads a video shot at a Prince concert to YouTube, and that video promptly disappears the moment Prince's lawyers issue a DMCA takedown notice. It may seem silly to many fans, but the DMCA instructs content hosting sites to respond to copyright complaints by instantly removing disputed content.
But in this case, it's not at all clear that Prince had the right to issue this notice. The song in question is a reportedly excellent cover of Radiohead's song Creep. CNN Money reports that "all videos of Prince's unique rendition of Radiohead's early hit were quickly taken down, leaving only a message that his label, NPG Records, had removed the clips, claiming a copyright violation."
What copyright violation would that be? As authors of the song, Radiohead, not Prince, own copyright in the work at issue. And they've apparently chosen not to enforce it here -- Radiohead's Thom Yorke has reportedly objected to the takedown in a recent interview: "Well, tell him to unblock it. It's our ... song."
Prince does have some rights over recordings of his performances under the anti-bootlegging statute, but those are not enforceable under the DMCA. If Prince can show that he was simultaneously recording the performance, he might be able to assert copyright in that recording -- but it's not clear that this is what Prince is claiming.
This may seem like simply another example of Prince's overzealous campaign to control all uses of any work attached to his name (even at the cost of preventing legitimate fair uses, or, as may be the case here, removing the copyrighted work of other artists). But the problem isn't Prince -- the problem is the DMCA's streamlined takedown provisions, which are all too easy to misuse. Sadly, this is not the last time legitimate speech will be silenced by a bogus copyright claim.