A network of European bootleggers is selling Prince songs around the world, including the music legend’s final concert, according to a copyright infringement suit filed by Prince’s estate and Paisley Park Enterprises.
The lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis, alleges that defendants living and operating in France, Belgium and the Netherlands have formed “an interrelated group of bootleggers who are … selling, distributing and trafficking in bootlegs of unreleased studio recordings of Prince music and unauthorized recordings of live Prince performances.”
The music includes the concert in Atlanta a week before he died April 21, 2016, of an accidental fentanyl overdose at Paisley Park.
The suit alleges copyright infringement of Prince’s songs, likeness and other iconic imagery and seeks a court injunction “to put a stop to defendants’ illicit operation” and monetary damages.
The suit is asking for $2 million “for each and every use of the Prince Trademarks” by the defendants. Such an amount would mean many millions in compensation if the suit prevails, given that there have been 18 unauthorized releases of compilations over more than two years.
The plaintiffs say they made multiple purchases and received some of the disputed recordings through newlovesigne.com, which is listed as a defendant. The website also offers free downloads of Prince songs.
The primary defendant is listed as Eric Ziani, who lives in France and is described in the suit as “a brazen bootlegger” at the center of the operation. Photos from Google Maps showing Ziani’s address in Lyon reveal an adjacent address with the word “bootlegger” on the door, according to the lawsuit.
Other defendants include Marcel Peters, of the Netherlands, allegedly a seller of the recordings; Piet Van Ryckeghem, of Belgium, another alleged seller; and Frederic Bianco, of France, a principal behind the bootleg label Eye Records, which the suit says was used to distribute the music.
Four unidentified “Does” are also being sued as suspected bootleggers.
Messages were left with several of the defendants Tuesday seeking response to the allegations. Court records show no response yet filed by the defendants.
‘Things usually fall apart’
Despite the voluminous amount of evidence outlined in the suit, a Minneapolis copyright attorney not connected with the case sees great obstacles to the plaintiffs ever recovering a single euro from any of the defendants.
Should Paisley Park and Prince’s estate win in U.S. court, they would then have to petition courts in Europe to find the defendants and go after bank accounts and other assets, said Mike Sherrill, who has been an attorney for more than three decades in areas of copyright.
“By the time you’re done, you’re going everywhere,” he said. Given all these challenges, “things usually fall apart,” and the plaintiffs fail to collect.
If chances of collecting are slim, the plaintiffs are most likely trying to send a warning to others who might have designs on Prince’s music.
“They are saying, ‘We are willing to do this so all of you John Does out there’ ” understand the legal consequences, Sherrill said. “I’ve got to believe there are more than these [defendants] doing this.”
The 53-page suit includes photos and web page screen grabs listing Prince’s music for sale in three compilation releases of unreleased studio records.
Other unauthorized releases contain live performances by Prince, including on April 14, 2016, in Atlanta, the final concert on his “Piano & a Microphone” tour.
The double CD, released the same year as his death, has a back cover touting this offering as being “Prince in his last-ever show, and one of the discs includes the words “1958-ETERNITY.”
A two-year criminal investigation into the overdose death of Prince closed this past spring with no charges being filed because local, state and federal investigators were unable to determine who provided Prince with the massive dose of fentanyl — disguised as counterfeit prescription medication — that killed him.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482