Waning pop genius Prince has initiated a campaign to force fan websites dedicated to his work to stop "all use of photographs, images, lyrics, album covers, and anything linked to [his] likeness." (The quote is from the Prince Fans United press release, discussed below.) According to reports (here, here, and here), Prince's lawyers have sent cease-and-desist letters and at least one DMCA takedown notice to the three largest Prince fansites, Prince.org, Princefams.com, and Housequake.com, demanding that they remove the above materials and requesting that the sites provide them with "substantive details of the means by which you propose to compensate our clients [Paisley Park Enterprises, NPG Records and Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG)] for damages."
Apparently, the letters went so far as to request removal of photographs taken by fans of their Prince tattoos and their automobiles carrying Prince-inspired license plates. As of yet, we've been unable to get a copy of one of the cease-and-desist letters, but it looks like Prince's lawyers are asserting a mix of copyright and publicity rights in his name and likeness in order to justify their demands.
The fansites are not taking this lying down. They've formed a coalition, Prince Fans United, and have issued a press release criticizing the letter campaign as an effort to stifle critical commentary about Prince and squelch their freedom of speech. They've got a decent grip on the legal claims and defenses potentially at issue:
The owners of housequake.com, princefams.com and prince.org acknowledge that, while Prince is entitled to control of his copyrights, it should be within the law. The law clearly provides for displaying of images of a celebrity's likeness for newsworthy events or matters which are considered to be public interest. All three websites feel that the photographs and/or likeness displayed on their websites clearly fall within the public interest category. Additionally, the use of photographs is legal based on the fair use doctrine, i.e. the displaying of album cover art, or the collage headers created by website members using a variety of different photographs.
This is not the first time Prince has used aggressive tactics to enforce his rights. According to the Guardian, Prince hired Web Sheriff in September 2007 to "police the removal of up to 2,000 clips from YouTube." That same month, Prince announced his intention to sue YouTube, the Pirate Bay, and eBay based on the allegedly coypright infringing activities of their users (Tech Crunch has details). There was also controversy surrounding Universal Music's sending a DMCA takedown notice to YouTube complaining about Stephanie Lenz's 29-second home video of her eighteen-month-old dancing in her kitchen to "Let's Go Crazy." (For details, see Lenz's complaint against Universal in federal court in California.) To be sure, Prince's relationships with his former record companies has been notoriously stormy, but some reports indicate that Universal was acting at Prince's behest in the Lenz matter.
We're looking for a copy of the recent cease-and-desist letters, which may have been sent to fansites other than those specifically discussed above. We'll keep you posted.