Prince is suing 22 fans, for $1 million a piece, for posting links to bootlegs of his concerts on filesharing sites. This is just the latest volley in Prince's long standing love/hate (well, mostly hate/hate) relationship with the internet.
Part of what makes his relationship with the internet so baffling is that back in the web's formative years, Prince was something of an early adopter. He was one of the first artists to make an album available for purchase via download, way back in 1998. In 2001, he started a website called the NPG Music Club, which allowed users to pay a monthly (or one time lifetime) subscription to get a trickle of new prince songs every so often, including non-album releases. Pretty forward thinking for the internet of 2001.
However, 2001 was around the same moment that Napster, Limewire, Audiogalaxy, and a host of other P2P file sharing programs began to take hold, allowing users to share audio with impunity, and without subscription fees. By 2006, Prince began to sour on the internet as a distribution medium and abruptly closed NPG Music Club.
The following year, a Prince song inadvertently set a fair use precedent when his record label Universal started sending DMCA takedown letters to YouTube videos featuring his music. One of the recipients was a woman who filmed his kids dancing to the song "Let's Go Crazy". She fought the takedown and won, with the district court saying that fair use must be considered before issuing takedown notices.
In a 2010 interview with the Daily Mirror, Prince articulated a dislike of the internet as a whole, explaining why he didn't make his music available online in the Princiest possible fashion.
"The internet's completely over. I don't see why I should give my new music to iTunes or anyone else. They won't pay me an advance for it and then they get angry when they can't get it.
"The internet's like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good.
"They just fill your head with numbers and that can't be good for you."
Still, three years later, it appeared as though he'd made an uneasy peace with the internet. He started a youtube and twitter account for his new band, 3rdeyegirl, he has made a significant part of his massive catalog available on iTunes, and he even opened up a new prince website (which has since closed).
But if today's Prince news tells you anything, it's that he still hasn't let go of pre-internet notions of control over distribution. And while other artists have managed to diminish the power of bootleggers by releasing live material themselves, Prince has decided to take the tilting at windmills approach.
(you can read the lawsuit below, if, like me, you're into that kind of thing)