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Prince Piracy Action Flusters Fans

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Intellectual property infringement is a risk for all rights holders and vigilance is required to protect them from abuse. Pop artist Prince started 2014 with a huge broadside against online pirates that had posted copies of his live performances across the internet.

A civil claim was issued for $22m against 22 internet users that had used Facebook and various blogs to disseminate copies of his live performances online. Although the response of fans was mixed, with many criticising his aggressive tactics, it provided a stark warning of the financial risks posed to pirates.

According to US celebrity gossip blog TMZ, Prince’s lawyers dropped the action shortly after it became public because the illegal bootleggers had removed the offending material.

Prince’s Live Performances and Piracy

One of the complaints made by Prince fans opposed to the legal action was that many of his live performances had not been made into commercially available recordings. Therefore the only recordings devotees could get their hands on were those that had been made illicitly by attendees at his concerts and that were distributed by online bootleggers.

Although fans might perceive this as justifiable, legally Prince is the only party that can choose to make that decision and he therefore had recourse to a civil legal action to protect his work. In the UK, certain types of intellectual property infringement, including the making or distributing or using of infringing articles such as pirated recordings of live events is also a criminal offence.

Protecting Live Performances in the UK

The Prince action has provided a very visible example of how this type of intellectual property infringement can be dealt with. In the UK live performances are protected under Part II of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA). There are several types of economic rights that are encapsulated in the Act to protect live performances from being copied including non-property, property and moral rights.

Under the Act consent is required to record, broadcast or make available to the public recordings of live performances. Without consent, pirates expose themselves to civil action similar to the one initiated by Prince and criminal action under s198 of the CDPA.


Digital recording combined with file sharing and broadcasting over the internet has caused huge disruption to the media industry. Although many music fans and other media consumers have become accustomed to listening to, viewing or obtaining copies of their favourite artists, films and TV shows for free; online piracy is not without risk.

Civil and criminal legal sanctions may await those who seek to profit from online piracy and even end users may be targeted when certain provisions of the 2010 Digital Economy Act come into force.

For specialist advice contact Peter Gourri today by email or telephone 0207 611 4848.

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