You Can’t Force Them To Come To You

As you have likely heard, Prince has been ruffling the righteous feathers of many fans lately by seeking the domain names of a number of Prince fan sites. The grounds are ‘intellectual property violations.’ Among the violations are photos of fan tattoos of images to which Prince holds the rights. Nevermind whose body they’re on.  You can follow the struggle from the affected sites’ POV on their site Prince Fans United.

In their year-end Pop review, the Telegraph offers their take on this, and on Prince’s move earlier this year to release his recent album as a free newspaper supplement:

What is being established is a new and more direct relationship between artist and fans, apparently with the intent of cutting out the record-company middleman, but it is not without its own complications. Prince gave his latest album away with a Sunday newspaper, using it effectively as a marketing exercise for his fantastically well received 21-night live run at the O2 Arena .

It was a move that reflects the profitability of the booming live sector and, in many ways, marks a welcome shift towards performance becoming (once again) the principle source of income for working musicians. It is the one musical transaction that still requires all parties to show up in person.

But what Prince giveth with one hand, he taketh away with the other, launching lawsuits against internet sites (including dedicated fan sites) for unauthorised use of his image. Suing your own fans is not usually considered good for business, but Prince may get away with it on account of his legendary eccentricity.

Prince’s unstated aim, in forcing YouTube (among others) to remove all footage of his performances, is not so much to control his image as to compel fans to come to him (and his own internet portals) for all Prince-related material.

If compelling your fans to come to you rather than building sites of their own isn’t control, what is? He may well “get away with it” but it would take some pretty hard evidence to convince me that he did not do damage to himself compared to where he would have been if he respected the fans’ dedication and let them do their thing.

To expect all the fans to come to you for all their needs is to misunderstand the internet, fandom, and what it means to have “a new and more direct relationship between artists and fans.” You don’t make new friends by insisting they always come to your house and do what you want to do. Sometimes you have to go to their houses and do what they want to do.

Fans like official sites. Fans also like — and many downright need — to build their own spaces where they create the culture.

Comments (2) to “You Can’t Force Them To Come To You”

  1. What happens if a “non-official” fan site has an “agenda”, or they put stuff at their site or distributes stuff that violates intellectual property laws or defame the star they claim to love and support? I don’t blame the celebs for wanting to perserve their rights of personality. Why should some fan be allowed to stage manage the star and try to control them?

  2. That’s a fair question and I have 2 responses.

    First, on intellectual property. My point is that not all intellectual property violations are harmful. In fandom, they are often beneficial to the artist. When they are (for example: unauthorized sales of copyrighted material), there’s every right to go after the violators. When they are not (for example: sharing lyrics or tabs on fan sites, posting pictures of the artist, sharing unreleased bootlegs), the fans are best left alone.

    Second, on defamation. If defamation is occurring in any venue, the artist has recourse by suing for defamation. It’s important not to entangle the issues of agendas to damage a person’s reputation and agendas to profit from others’ intellectual property.

    I’d suggest that a “fan group” that has an agenda of defaming is not a fan group, though even anti-fan groups are often best left alone as attacking only brings publicity.

    Distribution of materials is not intrinsically harmful to those who hold the copyright and I believe legal recourse should be saved for those occasions on which it clearly is.