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When YouTubers Cry: Prince Concert Videos Deemed Not Fair Use

January 10, 2020
Post by Nicholas J. Krob

Last week, U.S. District Judge Leo T. Sorokin granted summary judgment in favor of the estate of the late artist Prince regarding its claim of copyright infringement against Kian Andrew Habib, who had previously posted six Prince concert videos to his YouTube channel. In doing so, Judge Sorokin rejected Habib’s fair use defense, claiming Habib’s arguments had “miss[ed] the mark.”

Perhaps the only thing less surprising than the Prince estate filing a lawsuit against someone posting videos on YouTube in the first place is the fact that a YouTube user misunderstands copyright law and the defense of fair use specifically.

In response to the Prince estate’s motion for summary judgment, Habib claimed the concert videos he had taken and posted to YouTube constituted fair use because they were transformative in nature (in that he had chosen the vantage point from which to film and alternated between shots of the stage and shots of the crowd) and noncommercial (in that he did not seek to make money by posting them). However, Judge Sorokin explained that Habib did not “imbue Prince’s musical compositions with new meaning or add any of his own expression to the underlying works” so as to render the videos transformative. Additionally, he noted that Habib was looking to drive traffic to his YouTube channel by posting and promoting these videos, even if there was no money involved.

Despite, in Judge Sorokin’s words, “misunderstand[ing] both the nature and scope of copyright protection for musical compositions,” Habib claims this case “highlights a legal deficiency” and is now seeking “vindication at the highest-level appeals court.” In other words, it appears Habib is taking Prince’s 1984 hit “Let’s Go Crazy” to heart.


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