“Coachella, I am here,” was Prince’s proclamation as he strutted onto the stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival shortly after 11 p.m. on Saturday, April 26, lauding his arrival as the summer festival’s much-anticipated headliner.  In glittery fringe, the iconic rocker delivered a range of hits, including the guaranteed crowd-pleasers “Little Red Corvette” and “Purple Rain.” However, it was his cover of Radiohead’s “Creep,” that ended up drawing the most attention as one of the biggest surprises of the three-day musical celebration that consisted of more than 100 bands and around 60,000 fans per day.

Fans in attendance of the rocker’s Saturday evening performance gasped as they recognized the somber chords as those of the early Radiohead hit.  Fans not in attendance rushed out to download the performance from YouTube as soon as they heard rumors of the cover.  Despite their best efforts, however, tens of thousands of fans would be denied access to this much-sought-after video clip, along with Radiohead themselves, the original “Creep” crooners.  All videos of Prince’s heralded rendition of the Radiohead tune were quickly taken down at the request of NPG Records, Prince’s label, which claimed a copyright violation.

But the posted videos were shot by fans. And, obviously, the song isn’t Prince’s . . .

In a recent interview, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke called Prince’s “Creep” performance “hilarious,” laughing when his bandmate, guitarist Ed O’Brien, said the blocking had prevented him from seeing Prince’s version of their song.  However, Yorke has since been quoted urging Prince to unblock the tune:

“Really? He’s blocked it?”

“Surely we should block it. Hang on a moment.”

“Well, tell him to unblock it. It’s our . . . song.”

This dispute has evolved into an interesting debate between two major acts with very different views on music and the Internet: the web-friendly Radiohead and the YouTube-wary Prince.  Radiohead famously released their most recent album, “In Rainbows,” as a digital download with optional pricing, and the band even has its channel on YouTube.  Prince, on the other hand, previously sparked a similar YouTube controversy in October 2007 when he requested that the site remove a video in which a child is seen bounding and swaying for the camera, as the Prince hit “Let’s Go Crazy” plays faintly in the background.

As a matter of YouTube policy, if the site receives a complaint from a copyright owner, it will, in most cases, remove the video(s).  While YouTube prohibits the posting of copyrighted material, it is less clear whether a company not holding a copyright could also force the site to remove a video.

Who had the rights to put the clip online in the first place?  If YouTube had refused to acquiesce to Prince’s demands to remove the video, could Prince have brought a successful copyright infringement claim against YouTube?

Recently, Prince’s fans have organized to urge him to relent in his legal fights to control images and photographs of himself.  Ironically, as of last week, the most popular YouTube clip about Prince playing “Creep” is an expletive-laden rant from Sam Conti Jr., who describes himself as a “former Prince fan.”

Julia Fenwick

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