As you may have read, as part of their copyright crusade, Prince's legal staff recently demanded that all images of the Purple One be removed from specific fan Web pages. Several sites banded together to form Prince Fans United, there was a brief pause in the action and now ... a diss track.
In response, Prince registered the Web domain name "Princefamsunited.com" and posted a seven-minute funk jam called "PFUnk," alerting fans to its presence on fan site message boards. The song makes no secret of its target: "The only reason you say my name is to get your fifteen seconds of fame, nobody's even sure what you do," Prince sings. "I don't care what people may say, I ain't gonna let it ruin my day." Toward the end, Prince tells his fans, in his famed helium-like "Camille" voice, "I love all y'all, don't you ever mess with me no more," before taking out all his anger on his guitar. Prince goes as far as calling one person, likely a member of the PFU, "a big fat punk," and threatens someone called "Weemolicious" by singing "Look here Weemolicious, you and your boyfriend, lemme tell you somethin' right now, you run up on me again with words or otherwise, I'mma knock both you punks out." He also sings that he wants digital music to "disappear."
How did the fans, and the PFU, take to the diss track? With open arms and, surprisingly, dropped jaws. As one poster on the Housequake.com board said, echoing the general response, "It really is head and shoulders above anything on [Planet Earth] or 3121." Another poster thought they discovered an unearthed B-side from 1987, if not for the topical lyrics. Even the union that gets the brunt of Prince's bile, the PFU, celebrated the track they helped inspire.
Still, the question remains: Why did Prince's team target specific Web sites and ask for photos of everything from Prince-inspired tattoos to album-cover images to be removed? Could it be that the sites penalized were bootlegging and file sharing concerts, or diverting traffic from Prince's official site, 3121.com? Avera denies both claims, saying there's no file sharing on the boards, and that all the sites route traffic to 3121.com when possible. The sites in question claim they were singled out because they operate message boards that are sometimes critical of the star. Prince does have a history of unleashing his purple wrath on online boards: He terminated the NPG Music Club's message board, an official paid service for diehard fans, shortly after the release of 2004's Musicology. "I signed in one day, everything was fine," Karen Avera, spokesperson for PFU and Housequake moderator, said. "The next day I went and everything was gone. No warning." Avera speculates negative reactions to the album on the board -- which is similar to some of the fan criticism Prince's Planet Earth received just a few months ago -- was to blame.
The fan sites say they have always cooperated with the Paisley Park lawyers -- that is, until now. When fan photos of Prince's London concert marathon started surfacing on message boards, the lawyers asked that the photos be removed and replaced with shots provided by Prince-hired photographers. The fan sites gladly replaced the pictures. Now, however, the lawyers are demanding those photos be taken down. To date, Housequake.com has not removed the images, and since the site is based in Holland, Avera is unsure of whether the cease-and-desist letters are within their jurisdiction.
When Rolling Stone talked to John Giocobbi, the Managing Director of copyright protection agency Web Sheriff, regarding Prince's battle with YouTube, Giocobbi said, "Prince has always been a very independently minded artist and kind of bold and pioneering in a way. It goes back largely to the kind of promise he had with Warner Bros., when he lost the right to use his own name and then he became The Artist Formerly Known As. And once he recovered his scars from that battle, he was a lot more savvy as a result of that too. And he's a lot more kind of protective about his rights." When asked whether the Web Sheriff is just going after illegal bootlegging of Prince videos, Giocobbi admitted that, "In essence we're going after everything, which is why it's kind of pioneering."
As far as Avera is concerned, those message boards are going nowhere. "Oh, we're going to keep the message boards," Avera promises, "because the boards go far beyond just talking about Prince's music. It's a connection where a lot of people worldwide have come together to talk and make friendships." Despite feeling unappreciated, and the threat of a looming lawsuit, Avera swears that she, and the PFU, will remain Prince fans. "With everything that's going on, we continue to listen to his music. We'll continue to buy his music, because we appreciate his music."