Mother protects YouTube clip by suing Prince

Pennsylvannia woman sues Prince after he demands that her home movie posted to YouTube be removed for violating his copyright.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
2 min read

Prince can't push this mother around.

The pop star wanted YouTube to remove a clip of an infant boy dancing to his 1984 hit song "Let's Go Crazy." When the clip got scrubbed, the baby's mother cried foul and filed suit asking for damages. The woman's lawyers at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) say the dancing-baby clip is the poster child for fair use.

Corynne McSherry, the EFF attorney representing the baby's mother, Stephanie Lenz, said the music on the clip is barely audible and that Lenz, from rural Pennsylvannia, posted the video for noncommercial uses. Copyright owners are often too quick on the trigger when it comes to sending takedown notices to YouTube and other Web sites, according to McSherry.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act enables owners of intellectual property to demand that unauthorized copies of their work be removed from Web sites. But Congress also built in safeguards to prevent copyright owners from making misrepresentations.

"We've seen a lot of abuse of the takedown procedures," McSherry said. "It's very easy to get material taken down, and unfortunately folks aren't careful enough when issuing notices. This interferes with free-speech rights. The Internet can't continue to grow or be a robust forum if users can't share views or larger political commentary without being worried that every little piece of content is going to be removed."

There is also something unique about this case. Universal Music Group is the defendant because it represents some of Prince's publishing rights (his current music label is Sony BMG). A year ago, Universal signed a licensing deal with YouTube that allows users to include the label's music in videos. Under the terms of the agreement, YouTube agreed to remove material from any Universal artist who declines to participate.

According to sources knowledgeable with the agreement, only one artist represented by Universal has elected to opt out of the YouTube deal: Prince.

A representative of Universal declined to comment.

The iconic musician sometimes calls up Universal when he spots unauthorized uses of his work and asks them to send takedown notices, the sources said. The author of such hits as "Purple Rain" and "Little Red Corvette," Prince has hired a company called Web Sheriff to patrol the Web looking for unauthorized copies of his work and then try to get them taken down. The company said it plans to spearhead a legal challenge to YouTube and other Web sites on behalf of Prince and the 1970s disco band, the Village People.

John Giacobbi, Web Sheriff's president, said by phone Tuesday that his company had nothing to do with the Lenz baby clip and declined to comment further.

The lawsuit appears to have a ways to go before the issue is decided. Universal has filed a motion of dismiss and EFF is scheduled to issue their reply in the next few weeks.