UPDATE: In an attempt to "reclaim the Internet," Prince is preparing to file lawsuits against YouTube, eBay and The Pirate Bay, for allegedly encouraging copyright violations, according to one of his representatives.
The rock star has hired Web Sheriff, a British-based company that specializes in hunting down pirated content on the Web, to launch a legal campaign against companies that wrongfully profit from the artist's work, according to John Giacobbi, Web Sheriff's president.
Prince plans to file suit in both the United States and the U.K., and has hired a top Swedish law firm to take action against The Pirate Bay, a BitTorrent tracking site, Giacobbi said on Thursday. Prince has chosen a legal course because sites like YouTube and eBay have left him no other effective way to protect his copyright on their sites, according to Giacobbi.
Prince first hired Web Sheriff to patrol the Web for illegal uses of his material, and then to send "take-down notices" to sites when they found pirated material, Giacobbi said. But he added that sending written notices had little impact.
"In the past couple of weeks, we have removed about 2,000 infringing clips from YouTube," Giacobbi said. "We get them down and the next day, there are 100 or 200 more. Their business model is built on making money off other people's creative work."
Hani Durzy, a spokesman for eBay said the company has programs in place to help rights holders protect their property.
"The bottom line for us is that counterfeit or pirated goods are illegal and have no place on eBay," Durzy said. "We would be happy to work with Prince and his representatives to show them how they can work with us to make sure any infringing items come down."
Prince may be the first major artist to come out against Google, which acquired YouTube nearly a year ago. The move may prove a risky one for Prince. Many Internet users side with Google/YouTube on the issue of copyright. They think movie, TV and music executives are trying to put the squeeze on fans.
Prince could lose support from people who think his campaign is motivated by greed.
For Google, Prince is likely the best known artist to criticize the company for it's stand on copyright. Google and YouTube already face a $1 billion lawsuit filed earlier this year by media-conglomerate Viacom and a class-action suit filed by a group that includes several professional European sports leagues.
Google has always said that it obeys copyright laws. The company maintains that a safe harbor in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protects service providers from any illegal acts committed by users. YouTube also removes copyright work once notified by an owner.
YouTube said that it works to protect copyright owners every day.
"Most content owners understand that we respect copyrights," said Zahavah Levine, YouTube's chief counsel in a e-mail. "We work every day to help them manage their content, and we are developing state-of-the-art tools to let them do that even better. We have great partnerships with major music labels all over world that understand the benefit of using YouTube as another way to communicate with their fans."
Peter Sunde, one of the cofounders of The Pirate Bay who goes by the online handle "brokep," said that he hasn't heard anything about Prince's lawsuit. He also said that The Pirate Bay likely receives take-down notices from Web Sheriffs but that the company's "spam filters take care" of them.