If there’s one thing Prince has made clear over the years, it’s this: don’t mess with Prince’s intellectual property.
This holds true even if:
- it’s only links to bootleg concert recordings.
- it’s only a 6-second Vine captured at a Prince concert
- it’s Prince’s cover of someone else’s song he’s now claiming to “own”
- it’s only your toddler dancing to a Prince song for all of 29 recorded seconds
- it’s just a cover version of a Prince song, which as Prince so wisely noted, completely destroys the original and removes it from everyone’s consciousness/internet FOREVER
- it’s a puppet likeness of him
- it’s any photo of him or his album covers
Don’t mess with the Prince of IP unless you’re an intellectual property lawyer or have several on retainer. This is what Prince has taught us. Now, he’s teaching us to do as he says, not as he does.
Prince handed out someone else’s music for free, which would normally be considered copyright infringement. But the lawsuit against him, brought by the manager of the artist whose music was given away, doesn’t make that assertion. Instead, it alleges intentional interference with a pre-existing contract — namely the one signed by the plaintiff (talent scout Jolene Cherry) and Prince’s partner in free album giveaways, Judith Hill.
According to the complaint filed in L.A. Superior Court on Friday, Hill signed an exclusive recording agreement with a joint venture between Sony and The Cherry Party after appearing on The Voice in 2013. Cherry, a talent scout who takes credit for discovering Lady Gaga, says her relationship with Sony was later restructured and that The Cherry Party became a successor-in-interest to rights under the recording agreement.
Hill signed a contract with Cherry, then asked if she could make an album with Prince. Cherry rejected the request and followed up with a warning to Hill that working with Prince would violate their contract — a warning Hill ignored. Prince and Hill collaborated on an album and proceeded to give it all away.
Included in this gratis album are songs allegedly written by Hill’s co-writers and previously recorded for The Cherry Group. The lawsuit claims Prince’s actions have basically made Hill’s Cherry Group/Sony Records debut album all but unreleasable. Despite Hill’s willing participation in both the recording and the free giveaway, she is not named as a co-defendant.
In very closely related news, Hill is currently suing Cherry for allegedly botching a contract with Sony Records, as well as for harming the singer’s reputation by altering a previously-recorded track to make it sound like a love song to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. (That last half of the previous sentence is most assuredly not made up.)
Underneath everything else, there’s the simple fact that Prince’s IP-protectionism is apparently applied on a case-by-case basis. If it’s even tangentially related to him, it’s off limits. If it’s someone else’s (Hill’s co-writers, Cherry Party), it can be given away freely. If nothing else, this situation will hopefully result in “purple with hypocrisy” joining “green with envy” in the annals of American idioms.