In the 15 years since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was passed into law, we've seen all sorts of abuse and unintended consequences stemming from its more lopsided clauses. The safe harbors it creates for Internet service providers have provided useful protections for service providers, but the takedown process it authorizes makes it too easy for bad actors to shut down legitimate speech, from personal home videos to political commentary.
From time to time, we've named (and shamed) some of the worst abusers of the takedown process in our Takedown Hall of Shame. But every once in a while a history of attempts to silence speech is so extraordinary, so truly ridiculous, that an entry in the Hall of Shame is not dishonor enough.
Today we establish the Raspberry Beret Lifetime Aggrievement Award for extraordinary abuses of the takedown process in the name of silencing speech. And we're proud to bestow the inaugural title on the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince himself.
Prince is far from alone in his willingness to exploit the notice-and-takedown procedure for censorship, but he certainly occupies a special place in the pantheon. Here are some of the most egregious examples of Prince partying like it's 1998 — the year the DMCA went into effect.
This Is What It Sounds Like When Fair Use Cries
From his palace at Paisley Park, the Purple One has propelled himself into the headlines most recently for issuing the first known takedown notices for videos on the Vine platform. Vine videos are limited to six seconds, and usually consist of a series of very short shots edited together. Prince's NPG Records sent eight notices to the Twitter-owned service for videos from a single user who uploaded them at a Prince concert. Many cases of fair use are quite easy to spot, but this one is almost embarrassingly so: a transformative and very short clip of a concert performance that doesn't cause any market harm.
But that didn't stop Prince from shooting first and hoping nobody asks questions later.
While it may look like a sign of the times that Prince demanded these short concert clips be removed, it's not even the first time he's attempted to overreach in taking down concert footage. In 2008, Prince went one step further, sending a rash of takedowns for fan videos shot of his performance of the Radiohead song "Creep" at the Coachella Music Festival.
Just one problem: Prince doesn't even own a copyright that could be infringed in any of those uploaded recordings. Copyright only goes to the person who actually makes a fixed expression of an idea. That means members of Radiohead, as the songwriters, hold the copyright in the composition, and the fans making the recording hold the copyright in the videos. Prince is left just trying to hold control over the way people share their experiences.
Fortunately, Radiohead realized the problem and told YouTube to keep the videos up. But most of the time the victims of online copyright bullying don't get the same protection.
Let's Go Crazy (Over 29 Seconds of Home Video ... For Six Years)
But perhaps Prince's craziest act of DMCA abuse is the infamous takedown of the dancing baby video at the heart of the ongoing Lenz v. Universal. The story may by now sound familiar: Stephanie Lenz shot some 29 seconds of video of her baby son dancing to a grainy version of the Prince song "Let's Go Crazy" in the background. Universal Music, which represented Prince, sent a takedown notice and had the dancing baby taken offline for weeks.
We've already inducted Universal Music into the Hall of Shame for their role in that particular takedown, but Prince deserves a special mention.
Prince has shown time and again that he's willing to abuse copyright law in an attempt to recklessly impede free speech, but his role in the Lenz case cements this Lifetime Aggrievement Award.