I’ve been following the story of Prince’s copyright battles for over a year, and found the latest development noteworthy enough to call attention to. My interest began with Prince and Universal targeting YouTube, fan sites, and housewives for a number of debatable copyright infringements in 2007. It got some good media attention at first, with ABC News doing a great piece in Oct. 2007.

But although the attention on the subject has waned in the media, Prince and UMG have kept up their plight, and the latest fallout is the death of one of the oldest and most popular fan sites around, housequake.com One of the few to take notice was Ben Margolin, founder of Prince.org. On more than one level, his blog entry from last week provides a poignant understanding of why the copyright claims of Prince and UMG are baseless.

Margolin writes that fan sites like housequake and prince.org have “nothing directly to do with Prince, but everything to do with the extremely diverse community that has grown out of past and present (and if he’s lucky, future) Prince fans.”

Like the music Prince and UMG put into the ethos, all information (whether music, photos, or words) takes on a life of its own. As humans, our connection to and understanding of reality is shared through information. Human development requires building on information from others, and that information is always flavored by the individual sharing it and the medium through which its shared. Almost none of it is new. Its just “flavored” by us, re-arranged, and re-released into the ethos so that others may build upon it. Once that re-release happens, the information takes-on a life of its own, designed to be perceived by others and, possibly, contribute to the progress of human understanding.

Meanings are re-arranged in our heads and perceived through the filter of the rest of our life experiences. Lyrics are misunderstood, unintended epiphanies are reached, and so on. Whether its a troubled teenager deciding the lyrics are encouraging suicide, or a housewife inspired towards a new career-path, the information (or song) released is no longer an isolated work.

In this sense, even the very process of being exposed to a work, re-arranges and alters that original work. The information is perceived and processed by the viewer/listener/consumer in a way that is profoundly different from that of the creator. The original intention of the creator of any work is thus separate from the work itself, a fact that applies to Prince’s music as well as Margolin’s website.

Margolin states, “I am still close friends with many people I met through a shared interest in Prince. I wouldn’t say I’m still a friend, or fan, or fam, or whatever the hell the currently-authorized term is, of Prince. And that’s okay.” Ben Margolin is utterly devoted to Prince.org, but he’s NOT EVEN A FAN of Prince anymore. He’s a fan of a community that grew out of a shared interest in Prince, and Prince has no more right to shut that down than he has a right to call for a world-wide ban on the use of the color purple.

Prince re-arranged musical notes and words and concepts with a “flavor” that was so appreciated, it became his livelihood and earned him millions. For others to replicate and profit off of Prince’s flavor is one thing, and so perhaps his lawsuit against Pirate Bay is justified. But for Prince to try to criminalize people like Stephanie Lenz for expressing themselves in a way that draws from their life experience (which includes the flavored information he contributed) is a crime against human development.

Like Prince’s songs, these fan sites and YouTube videos have become something entirely separate from what the author originally created; and now, even though Ben Margolin is confident that his own flavored information, Prince.org, benefits Prince significantly, today he maintains the site in-spite of that fact, not because of it. As he tells his readers, “We’re here for you, the now or once-, or future-Prince fan. Even if it does benefit Prince’s crazy ass in the process.”

For more recent developments in this arena, check out the work of our friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“… the sins of princes, it is the princes who have also suffered the penalty.” — Nicolo Machiavelli