By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
The music world has lost some of its royalty lately. On the heels of David Bowie and George Martin, last week's loss of Prince is another blow. The artist was known for his genre-defying sound, for his prolific songwriting for himself and other artists, for his sheer musicianship with a guitar, and for pushing a lot of social boundaries. But in legal circles, he was also known for something else: for doggedly enforcing his intellectual property (IP) at a time when public support for those protections has been waning. As described in a recent Wall Street Journal article, he enforced copyright against a 29-second home movie of a baby dancing to the Prince song, "Let's Go Crazy," sued a Chicago bike messenger who created a guitar using the symbol that Prince temporarily adopted as his name, hit "Twitter" with a takedown notice over users sharing six-second "Vine" clips of his music, and sued 22 of his fans for $1 million each for downloading a bootleg concert video. So in the musical world, he was not just the "Prince of Purple," but the "Prince of IP" as well.
Along the way, Prince won some victories, including the suit against the guitar-designing bike messenger. But he also experienced a backlash. A generation now raised on the ability to find free music on the internet didn't like the idea of a wealthy artist clamping down on the freedom of his fans. At one point, several of the artist's own fan websites joined together into an organization called "Prince Fans United" in order to protest what it considered to be the artists' overbroad copyright enforcement on his music and image. The Electronic Frontier Foundation called the artist out with a "Raspberry Beret Lifetime Aggrievement Award" The response has been similar to that experienced by other artists, like Metallica, who played a role in trying to shut down Napster and other free music sharing in the early 2000's. The pattern that emerges is that we love the artists, but hate it when these artists try to protect their art. That dynamic is representative of our love/hate relationship regarding intellectual property in general. On the one hand, we welcome innovation and those who are able to bring new art, new ideas, and new products to us. But on the other hand, it feels controlling and restrictive for the innovator - often a rich and powerful party -- to control others' use of the innovation. We like the artistry, but the control feels unfair. In this post, I'll take a look at current attitudes toward IP and share some thoughts on how to adapt to these attitudes.