Last week we lost not only a Prince, but also a King of intellectual property rights for artists. Many talk the talk, but few have walked the walk and fought the fight, as did Prince Rogers Nelson.

Prince was renowned by many for his business acumen almost as much as for his musical talent. He was also an individual that rightfully stood up for his autonomy and his rights as an artist. Prince has shown numerous times that personhood and your freedom to do what you love on your own terms outweighs everything else. And Prince made sure to live up to that principle as best as he could.

The term “masters” is the life blood of musicians in the music industry. “Masters” are the rights to the actual “original” physical sound recordings. The individual or company holding this right has the ability to license the right to whomever they wish, (or not at all) in exchange for a sum they see fit. Furthermore, they have the right to say who may reproduce the music and in what form(s). Unfortunately, most artists give up the master rights, publishing rights and even copyrights to their music in exchange for a contract with a big record label; therefore, all of this may be done with no permission, consent or approval from the artist himself.

Prince, seeing the irony in the recordings being called masters, referred to this concept of others owning his work as “slavery”. Around 1996 Prince started painting the word “slave” on his face when performing in public famously proclaiming. “People think I’m a crazy fool for writing ‘slave’ on my face, but if I can’t do what I want to do, what am I?” Prince strongly posed this question in a 1996 Rolling Stone interview. It seems that to Prince he was nothing more than a slave to Warner Bros. Records; they controlled and owned his name and anything released under that name.

Around 1993, Prince decided to break out of the “chains” that he felt his label had him tied to. By initiating a lawsuit against Warner Bros. Records, Prince fought for his name, rights and music. He even removed his name from releases and changed his name to a symbol. After a lengthy lawsuit against Warner Bros. Prince lost this battle and was obligated to fulfill his contractual obligations under the agreement he signed when he was only eighteen years old. But this was just the beginning for Prince. Prince’s conviction that you need the freedom to do what you love, on your own terms, led him to his success as a business person who had full control over his talent and work.

Once Prince’s contractual obligations with Warner Bros were fulfilled Prince became an independent artist who had control over his art and his talent. For some time Prince released his own music, and sold tickets to his show online. He even successfully engaged in some limited partnership agreements, with big record labels. But Prince recognized other issues that victimize artists; one beast was the internet. Prince said in a Rolling Stone interview that “If you don’t own your masters, your masters own you.”

Prince believed that an artist has a fundamental right to control the work he created, and no one else should have that right; not the music record labels, and certainly not the Internet. In 2007, Prince decided to take legal action against YouTube, eBay and Pirate Bay for the unauthorized use of his music. According to the article, Remembering Prince’s Fight for Artist Independence by Rashad Drakeford, “over 2,000 Prince Clips from YouTube and over 300 eBay auctions” were pulled down. And by 2015 “he [successfully] pulled his music from all streaming services….” Link.:

The Prince is dead. Long live the ideals he stood up for and fought for.