Taylor Swift is the thing of legends nowadays. She built an original fan base in the country scene. Four albums later, she tries pop on for a change. She has a reputation for being undateable and turning her exes into her next big hits. Possibly one of the biggest things she is known for today is her fierce protection of her music and her pledge of duty to uphold artists’ rights. Love her or hate her, she has become a champion for artists on the legal end of the music business.
However, kids, she is NOT the first artist to fight so fiercely for artist rights. Before Taylor Swift ever began singing, there was Prince, or, as we should say, the artist formerly known as Prince, or The Love Symbol, depending on your preference. As much as we like to call Ms. Swift frigid and beastly for protecting her rights, Prince makes her look civil. And, even in death, Prince is still battling for his rights.
Last year, Prince made the bold move to pull his entire catalog off every major streaming service, undoubtedly to make a case for better streaming rights. However, there was one streaming service he decided could keep part of his catalog: Jay-Z’s own Tidal. Before his death, Prince lauded the effort put forth by Tidal: “TIDAL have honored Us with a non-restrictive arrangement that once again allows Us to continue making art in the fashion We’ve grown accustomed 2…”
However, now that the icon has passed, his estate is feeling quite different about Tidal. On what would have been the singer’s 58th birthday, Tidal, Jay-Z, and Roc Nation released fifteen of Prince’s albums. Prince’s estate was quite displeased, primarily over the violation of the exclusive deal, which was only supposed to last 90 days. In addition, Tidal and Jay-Z have reportedly failed to make a $750,000 payment to secure streaming rights.
Naturally, Prince’s estate and NPG Records have filed a lawsuit against Roc Nation, Tidal, and Jay-Z on charges of copyright infringement, which would definitely be a big blow to Tidal’s already bad financial state. The surprising thing about this is that the lawsuit has only been filed recently, giving the defendant companies an abundance of time to preemptively counter with a lawsuit of their own against Prince’s estate.
Personally, I like to support artists’ rights. As crazy as Taylor Swift and Prince seemed, I can’t blame them for being so fanatical about their music. They want to make money off their music? That’s their prerogative and business model and it has worked quite well for them in the past. And, if they rouse some controversy and headlines, more power to them! We don’t talk about copyright and the legal aspects of the music business enough, so we have all these uninformed artists making poor choices on legal matters. And if stories like these get artists interested in the legalities of music so much as to inform themselves, let the stories flood in!
As Princes fans believe, I don’t think Prince is dead just yet. Prince is iconic and his career is definitely going to outlive him for several years beyond his passing. If I were a member of Prince’s estate, I would make sure I had a good lawyer. There are lawyers whose job it is to represent dead celebrities, such as Mark Roesler. A lawyer for dead celebrities knows how to work everything out in such a way that the artist is not taken advantage of post-mortem, their estate and the ones they left behind are taken care of, and support their own business at the same time. Without one of these lawyers or a good legal mind, a career can die as fast as a body.
As for the future of the music business, I’m all for talking about copyright. I may not know everything, but I do know that our current system is outdated and needs a massive overhaul to make it compatible for the 21st century. Imagine what a movement of artists and entertainment lawyers could accomplish in ten years. With the potential of a business-savvy presidency, the removal of the head of the United States Copyright office, and Prince’s estate filing a lawsuit on the basis of copyright, we are headed for a perfect storm to negotiate, fix, edit, redact, and improve copyright law! If music is the generator of the music industry, then law is the maintenance that ensures it functions properly.
As creators, consumers, artists, producers, managers, lovers of music, it is time for us to get up, get informed, and get heard by Washington. This is a battle that has our name on it and I’ll be damned if I don’t do something about it.
If you’d like to read the article and the lawsuit that prompted this post, click here.
If you’d like to learn about what happens to artists and their careers upon death, click there.
Once again, this has been the view from 214.