This is what it sounds like when music labels cry “copyright infringement.”
After Prince’s death in April 2016, thousands of fans flooded the streets outside of First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis to mourn and to celebrate his life. And the most emotional and memorable moment of that evening is when everyone joined together to sing “Purple Rain” along with a recording of our late idol.
The images and video of that event traveled around the world, and they’re inseparable from our collective memory of that sad day. One important record of the occasion was video shot by the Star Tribune’s Aaron Lavinsky. His tweet containing that video has since been retweeted 14,000 times and received 17,000 likes.
But apparently Universal, which owns the rights to “Purple Rain,” thinks it owns our public response to Prince’s death as well. Here’s what Lavinsky’s video looks like on Twitter this morning.
So what happened? U.S. copyright law is what happened.
This is very disturbing: Universal Music filed a DCMA takedown on a video I shot of thousands of Prince fans singing Purple Rain the night of his death. This was clearly fair use and UMPG and Twitter are in the wrong. https://t.co/FOSlPdCqV7— Aaron Lavinsky (@ADLavinsky) July 25, 2018
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 allows intellectual property owners who believe their copyright is being infringed to file a takedown notice with an internet service provider or a website hosting the content. If the ISP or site immediately removes the content, they can’t be sued. So that’s just what they do.
You won’t be surprised to learn that this process is easily abused by overprotective media conglomerates. In this case, Universal has done nothing less than block our access to the reporting of a significant news event. And Twitter went right along with them.
If they have the time and resources, however, reporters and other content creators can fight back against a DMCA takedown by claiming their content constitutes “fair use.” In 2008, for instance, after a viral video of a child dancing to a popular song was taken down, the video creator fought back and a judge ruled that the copyright holder had no good faith reason to believe they had a right to claim infringment.
The song was “Let’s Go Crazy.” The company that lost the case was Universal.
UPDATE: Universal has withdrawn its takedown notice and the video is back on Twitter. Full story—and video—here.