Earlier this week, a clip surfaced on YouTube showing the first-ever performance of Prince’s “Purple Rain.”
Unveiled at a benefit concert in Minneapolis in 1983, the clip is absolutely breathtaking. With some slight tweaks, Prince ended up using the cut for the eponymous album.
But within a few days’ of the clip’s posting, it was taken down. It was briefly salvaged by Slate, but they too were forced to remove it last night, after receiving a similar warning.
Prince has gained a reputation as one of the most aggressive protectors of copyright in the world. He famously painted the world “slave” on his face upon realising the extent of Warner Brothers’ ownership of his image and music. You’ll only find two Prince music videos on YouTube, and no fan clips of any of his recorded songs. Indeed, he once threatened to sue super-fan bootleggers of his material for $US1 million each.
But if you believe in what Taylor Swift has to say about the music industry, you really shouldn’t be getting too mad at him.
In her recent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Swift described the unique artist in 2014 who is able to form a lifelong relationship with his or her fans. “…Some artists will be like finding ‘the one,'” she wrote. “We will cherish every album they put out until they retire and we will play their music for our children and grandchildren. As an artist, this is the dream bond we hope to establish with our fans. I think the future still holds the possibility for this kind of bond, the one my father has with the Beach Boys and the one my mother has with Carly Simon.”
For Duane Harriott, a DJ at WFMU and the former sales manager at legendary record label Other Music, this is exactly the type of bond Prince enjoys with his fans. As such, they should accept Prince’s bringing the hammer down on unlicensed use of his stuff.
“YouTube and all that other stuff is the reverse of what his philosophy is,” Harriott told us recently. He continued: “He’s not a social guy. He’s looking for like-minded individuals, including his fans, and I think he looks at listening and the way people socialize is a bit too easy. He looks at it like, ‘Why should I do this just because everyone is doing this?'”
The “slave” incident crystallized this attitude. “The message to fans was, ‘If you want to roll with me, and still listen to my music, this is where I’m going to go,’ ” Harriot said.
There’s long been speculation about what Prince will do with his vast archive of material, which Billboard has argued it is “the most significant catalogue of unreleased material of the past 40 years.” Any other pop artist as relevant has Prince has either released all their material, or is only holding onto items that did not come during a creative peak, the magazine says.
But there are signs we could see it soon. Prince signed a new deal with Warner Brothers last month, something many analysts say was only possible because the label’s rights to Prince’s master recordings was about to expire. In annoucning the deal, Prince said fans could expect “the release of long-awaited, previously unheard material.”
Prince’s rights over a fan video from 1983 likely extend to it being a recording of a performance that was later fully licensed, so for now you’ll likely have to look elsewhere to find it again.
But even if that weren’t the case, if you still believe in forming a Swift-ian bond with your favourite band, you should be willing to give them as much control as they need over how they get their material to you.
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