The "karma police" are coming for you, Prince.
An interesting battle is taking place on Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) YouTube between the eccentric pop star and rock-critic fave Radiohead.
Prince has been adamant about protecting his likeness from appearing on YouTube or taking down unauthorized recordings when they crop up on eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY ) . His Purpleness must have figured that issuing a round of takedown notices on YouTube would be a breeze, after fans uploaded video recordings of him performing at last month's Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California.
He was wrong.
Prince's self-owned record label asked that the clips be removed on YouTube, and the video-sharing site complied. However, the most popular clips were those of Prince performing a cover of Radiohead's first mainstream hit, "Creep."
When alerted about the move during an interview, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke responded by saying that Radiohead should have the rights to decide whether to block the clip. What would you do if you were YouTube?
Now it has a unique question of intellectual capital ownership. Who has the right to block or unblock a clip? Is it the fan with the cameraphone who shot the concert footage? The performer? The owner of the song?
Some of YouTube's most popular channels belong to guitar-strumming crooners like Mia Rose and Marie Digby, who will occasionally belt out an acoustic cover. Do the songwriters have ownership sway there? If so, then Yorke clearly has a point.
The face of YouTube is changing lately, with corporate giants overtaking the small fry. The channel with the most views this week on YouTube is Hulu, the partnership between News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS ) Fox and General Electric's (NYSE: GE ) majority-owned NBC Universal, filling the site with legal Family Guy and The Simpsons clips. The three channels with the most views of all-time on YouTube are now Universal Music, Sony's (NYSE: SNE ) Sony BMG music label, and CBS (NYSE: CBS ) .
This doesn't mean that you can't feed your daily fix of sneezing pandas, laughing babies, and subway rants on the site. But it certainly means that YouTube has a lot of companies with fat legal teams watching the site even more closely today.