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Remembering Prince's Fight for Artist Independence

Rashad Drakeford

 // Apr 21, 2016

Prince will not only be remembered for being a musical genius but also a fierce advocate for artist rights and independence. There is arguably no artist who has done more to protect the rights, music and likeness of musical artists than Prince Rodgers Nelson. Here's a look at some of Prince's monumental legal battles that impacted the music business.

Prince Vs. Warner Bros. Records:

From 1993-1996, leading up to the release of The Gold Experience, Prince and his recording home, Warner Bros., were at odds over money and creative direction. Prince's argument was that by being signed to Warner the company in essence controlled his name, rights and music. It was during this standoff that Prince removed his name from releases and changed his name to a symbol and was dubbed, "the Artist Formerly Know as Prince." During this legal battle, Prince frequently wore the word "Slave" written on his face during performances and appearances. Recalling that time, Prince told Rolling Stone in 1996, "People think I'm a crazy fool for writing 'slave' on my face, but if I can't do what I want to do, what am I? When you stop a man from dreaming, he becomes a slave. That's where I was. I don't own Prince's music. If you don't own your masters, your master owns you."

After a lengthy legal and PR fight, Prince lost to Warner Bros. To quickly fulfill his contractual requirements, Prince released a series of albums, including Chaos and Disorder and Old Friends 4 Sale, mostly stacked with off-cuts and studio tapes. From that point forward, Prince was essentially an independent artist who controlled his musical and creative output no matter what label relationship he had.

Prince Vs. The Internet:

In 2007, Prince announced he was going to take legal action against YouTube, eBay and the Pirate Bay for unauthorized use of his music. He hired Web Sheriff, a division of the Entertainment Law Associates, to aggressively take action. They pulled down over 2,000 Prince clips from YouTube and over 300 eBay auctions. He laid bare any semblance of his work online. Then, in July of 2015, he pulled his music from all streaming services except the Jay Z-owned Tidal platform, which later exclusively streamed his HITNRUN album.

Prince Strikes Deal With Warner Bros. Records:

Years after a contentious battle in the '90s that led to an 18-year absence, Prince returned to Warner Bros. Records in 2014 with a deal that gave him ownership of his catalog, an unprecedented move for an artist. Furthermore, his classic albums under the label like Dirty Mind and 1999 were licensed through Warner Bros. as part of the new global agreement. Additionally, Prince's classic Purple Rain album was re-released in a remastered deluxe version in time for the 30th anniversary of the album and movie.

For 20 years, since he initially split with the label, he maintained control of his prolific output, employing almost every imaginable method of distribution to take his music to the public.

If there is one thing Prince left for artists to remember it's this: Nothing can replace the freedom to create the music you love, on your terms.

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