How a Prince Cover Sent Me to YouTube's Copyright-Infringement Cartoon
Thursday morning I logged onto YouTube and found that my account had been frozen for copyright infringement. It's happened before, but this time I was instructed to watch a five-minute cartoon from the folks behind Happy Tree Friends about being a dirty, content-stealing pirate as well as take a quiz once it was over so I could better understand what evil I had committed against whatever giant faceless corporate overlord I had angered.
Obviously, I took it well.
The video in question was a cover of Prince's "Darling Nikki" done by defunct Houston goth act Delicate Terror. I had uploaded it as part of a project to recover and rank great Houston cover songs for an article. This one made No. 4 on the list if I remember correctly. It never appeared on commercial release as the album Entelechy & Ruin remained incomplete when Delicate Terror disbanded in 2002, according to Spike the Percussionist.
I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. Prince is famously vindictive about his intellectual property, shutting down pretty much any attempt to put his songs on YouTube in any way, shape or form. This has resulted in some truly embarrassing moments, such as when he covered Radiohead's "Creep" live at Coachella, then proceeded to send copyright infringements to anyone who uploaded live footage of the song. Only the intervention of Thom York himself, who, you know, wrote the freakin' song, allowed the videos to finally be reposted.
Then there was the time the mother of a toddler got hit with a infringement notice by Prince and Universal Music Group in 2007 after she filmed her toddler dancing to "Let's Go Crazy." Represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, she sued UMG. The ultimate decision in the case was that entities like UMG must actually consider the idea of fair use before they just send out their notices.
After completing my mandatory test initiative, I decided to reach out to the only voice I trust on the matter of music and copyright, Mark Hosler of Negativland. His 2005 treatise on copyright law, included in the album No Business, remains one of the most important works written on the subject; you can read it here. No one has ever spoken more eloquently on the nature of modern copyright and the idea of fair use as it applies to music.