Prince was no stranger to legal matters and doing what was necessary to protect his intellectual property ownership. In 1993, we saw him change his name from Prince to The Artist Formerly Known As… in order to get out of a contract with Warner Brothers. Then, there was the 2008 Coachella débâcle where he sent similar takedown notices to YouTube demanding removal of his performance of Radiohead’s song “Creep.”

In 2013, we saw him send DMCA takedown notices to Vine for six second video clips recorded and shared by a concert goer. Let’s not forget the time he demanded removal of the 29 second home video of a woman’s YouTube video baby dancing to “Let’s Go Crazy” — this issue didn’t go away so easily. It was removed under the DMCA, reposted because of a response by the mom , and ultimately landed in court for a determination.

Legal lessons we can learn from Prince…

While many believed that Prince’s tactics with fan-created content were overreaching (and sometimes harsh) I believe that in a “let’s make it viral” centric world he taught us so much. One of the biggest problems I’ve seen in the creative entrepreneur community is that creators don’t do enough to protect their intellectual property.

There’s often a predisposed air of defeat. Assumptions that your efforts to get the person to act accordingly won’t matter.

There’s a rampant devaluing of your creativity.

There’s shame around being an emerging creative or artist who isn’t over the moon at the mere fact that your work is being shared and reshared (even if it was posted without permission and the other person is profiting in cash or traffic). It’s impacting the world isn’t that what you wanted? 

Or, you’re worried that because you’re actually standing up for yourself you’ll be seen as greedy or….mean.

#PrinceTaughtUs that it’s ok to to be creative, to be an artist wanting to impact the world while standing up for ourselves and our creations.

You may (or may not) remember in 2014 Prince regained ownership of his catalog from Warner Brothers. It was a huge deal.

But first, here’s a bit of background…

The Copyright Act of 1976 gives creators the right to terminate their master recording copyrights after 35 years. This became effective in 1978 when Prince’s first album was released. In plain language, even if an artist or songwriter signed a contract giving a record company or publisher rights to their work in perpetuity (forever more) the creator can terminate that transfer after 35 years. This is how Prince was able to regain ownership of his music catalog.

But, Prince’s decision also highlights the importance of legal strategy and looking ahead. Let me explain…

One of the most important things creators can negotiate in a contract is ownership rights. If you agree to create work as a work-for-hire then the “reversion right” that gives you the ability to take back ownership of your creative work after 35 years doesn’t apply to you. Why not? Because when there’s a work-for-hire, you are never truly considered the original creator of the work — your client is.

For this reason, most creators should try to negotiate assignments or licenses of their work when creating for others.

An assignment is a transfer of ownership but after 35 years (unlike a work-for-hire) you have the reversion right under the Copyright Act and can terminate it.

  • Imagine how much value your work will build after 35 years…
  • Imagine what it would be like for you and your family to own that valuable work after 35 years if you so choose…
  • Imagine being able to renegotiate deals based on the new, increased value and the current market…

This ability to honor your value, look ahead and plan for the future using legal protections is what legal strategy is all about. 

Thank you Prince for everything that you taught us about standing up for our rights in our creative, intellectual property. Here’s a clip with an important lesson #PrinceTaughtUs even at the age of 19. Enjoy.

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