Fanzine Claims The Artist Wants To Shut It Down

Uptown alleges former Prince is looking to 'clear the decks' before starting own publication.

Not long after The Artist Formerly Known As Prince sued a fanzine for alleged copyright violations -- which included printing his name and picture -- a representative of his official website asked the fanzine to merge with the site and cease publication, the fanzine's lawyer said.

A representative of the Artist's website told an editor at the long-running fanzine Uptown that the Artist's team intended to start its own magazine, according to Alex Hahn, an attorney for the fanzine.

"This says to us the underlying intent [of the lawsuit] is to wipe out Uptown and clear the decks for this other magazine," Hahn said.

The Artist filed suit against the publication in New York last month, alleging Uptown -- based in Sweden -- violated his copyright and trademark rights by using the symbol that serves as his name without permission. The suit claims The Artist has suffered irreparable harm and seeks to enjoin Uptown from publishing its magazine and related books.

At the same time, The Artist sued nine websites devoted to his music.

Then last week, according to Hahn, a member of the team that oversees The Artist's "Love 4 One Another" site (www.love4oneanother.com) contacted Uptown and asked the fanzine to merge with The Artist's team to work on a new, official print magazine. A condition of joining would be to cease publication of Uptown.

But Pierre Igot, the "Love 4 One Another" representative who contacted Uptown research and features editor Per Nilsen, said there is no official Artist magazine in the works.

"I just said that there was always a possibility in the future that we might work on a magazine, and that, of course, if they ever decided to join the ['Love 4 One Another'] collective, their expertise in that area would then be useful," Igot said.

He stressed that he spoke only as a member of "the collective" (as "Love 4 One Another" is known among Prince's fans), not as a representative for The Artist's Paisley Park operation.

Igot did say, however, that if Uptown were to align itself with "Love 4 One Another," the fanzine would be obligated to shut down, as have all the dozen or so fan operations that have joined the collective. Uptown declined an earlier invitation to join the group in December.

The Artist -- who in his Prince days was so accustomed to pushing the envelope that he named his fourth album Controversy (RealAudio excerpt of title track) -- had enjoyed one of the most active Internet-based fan communities.

That relationship began to show signs of strain after Feb. 25, when he filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against Uptown and nine fan sites. He also filed against a company called Interactive Productions.

The intent of the suits was not to stop fan activity, but to stop sites that were trying to make a profit from The Artist's name and music, according to Lois Najarian, his publicist.

"The sites that were targeted in this suit are ones where there was commercial activity," Najarian said. "The Artist is very smart. He knows what a fan site is and how important they are. He also is smart enough to see when it's crossed over into a place where it's unfair to him to be profiting from things he's created himself."

Most of the sites named in the suit no longer are online. Ted Daniel, webmaster for the still-operating "Databank Transcription Team" site (www.dttlyrics.com), said his site has never sold anything.

The DTT also declined an invitation to join the "Love 4 One Another" collective, according to a statement issued by the 12-member, international team. The site houses lyrics for both released and bootlegged songs by The Artist, from "Alphabet Street" (RealAudio excerpt) to "Zannalee" (RealAudio excerpt).

"[The lawsuits] will definitely have a detrimental effect, alienating some people," Daniel said.

"The Dawn" website (www.thedawn.com), like Uptown, was cited for violating The Artist's copyright and trademark rights by publishing his symbol name, according to both Najarian and Drew Star, a spokesperson for -- and brother of -- site owner James Thompson. The site was up as recently as Tuesday, but appeared blank Thursday night (March 18).

Star, who asked not to be identified by his real name, questioned whether The Artist's copyright claim is valid. He said the symbol is almost wholly based on a medieval symbol for sandstone that can be found in Ernst Lehner's book "Symbols, Signs and Signets."

Even more egregious, Star said, was that a multimillionaire musician would sue a fan like his brother, whose $15,000-a-year salary as a web developer will keep him from hiring a lawyer to answer the summons. "That's like eating your young," Star said.

Najarian declined to respond to that assertion. She referred copyright questions to The Artist's business partner L. Londell McMillan, who did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

Hahn, who accepted the Uptown case pro bono, said he expects to file a response to the suit in early April. He argued that when The Artist changed his name to the symbol in 1993, he was asking the public at large to refer to him with that mark.

"A copyright you have to treat in the manner that it's protected," Hahn said. "You can't simply give everyone permission to use it and then single out one particular entity for using it."

The Artist obtained the copyright on it on June 27, 1997, according to his suit.

While The Artist claims in the suit that consumers may mistake Uptown and its books "Turn It Up" and "Days of Wild" for official Prince-related products, Hahn said all the publications are identified inside as independent ventures. The fanzine would have adopted a more explicit disclaimer if The Artist had requested it before taking them to court, he said.

"We're willing to do whatever is necessary to accommodate Prince to state our independence," Hahn said. "We felt we've done enough already, but we're willing to do more. But we're not willing to shut down the magazine."