For many years it had seemed like Prince was one of the major music industry stars who actually understood the new business models made possible by the internet, and how those could be leveraged without wasting time on worrying about those who were making unauthorized copies. Unfortunately, for all his innovation in the space, it looks like he, too, has fallen victim to trying to sue those who are out there promoting his works. Prince had experimented widely
with a variety of innovations in making, distributing and promoting music -- including his recent offer giving away his latest CD for free
with newspapers. He'd also done a number of other promotions, all designed to push more people to his concerts and events where he could make even more money. That's why it's both surprising and disappointing to find out that Prince is now going to the other extreme and is suing YouTube, eBay and the Pirate Bay
for making his works available.
There are quite a few things that are problematic about this lawsuit -- with the first one still being that he's suing the wrong parties. The sites he's suing are all the platforms which others are using for distribution. They're not involved in the content at all, and if he wants to sue, he should be suing those who are uploading his content. However, the much more important issue is how backwards this is and how it goes against nearly every other part of his strategy. Nearly every other part of Prince's strategy had seemed to be focused on the simple idea that the more his music got out there, the more ways there were for him to make money -- whether it be from more people wanting to see him in concert or getting others (sponsors, partners, even fans) to pay him upfront to create his next group of songs so that he doesn't need to worry about monetizing the music after it's been produced. These are strategies that make sense, and actually become even more valuable when his music is being heavily promoted online for free by his biggest fans. This kind of strategy backfires when you try to also maintain strict copyright control. For someone who had been so creative in figuring out new business models that don't require limiting fans via copyright, it's disappointing to see Prince go in the opposite direction -- potentially harming much of the good will he's built up.
In the meantime, it's looking like Trent Reznor may quickly be taking away the baton as a well-known musician who is experimenting with cool new models
designed to get more music out there and then providing incentives to make money
elsewhere. Reznor is now being quoted as telling fans that they should be downloading his music
for free from his own site, rather than wasting money on buying counterfeit CDs.