Luke Rehbein on How a photographer is taking on Prince’s estate over copyright infringement

A photographer is suing the estate of the late superstar Prince. Madison Dube alleges that the late singer’s estate is using her photographs without the proper licence or her permission.

Ms Dube sued Prince’s estate in the US District Court for the District of Minnesota. She alleges that the estate “has prioritised corporate interests over artists’ rights, in direct contravention of Prince’s well-known principles and legacy.”

Prince Album cover Dawn Ellmore Employment

Copyright infringement case against Prince’s estate and associated companies

Ms Dube collaborated with Prince during the final few years of his life. She says that he became a friend and mentor to her between 2013 and the year of his death in 2016. She filed the copyright infringement against Prince’s estate and all its associated companies in November 2019.

The lawsuit says that Ms Dube is considered “a gifted photographer and artist”. It goes on to describe how her work caught the “attention of one of the most talented musicians and entertainers of our tie, Prince Rogers Nelson, more commonly referred to as Prince.”

Prince went on to hire Ms Dube on numerous occasions between 2013 and 2016. She provided various freelance work for the artist, including graphic design, videography, filming, voice work, photography and other creative contributions.


Prince concert - Dawn Ellmore Employment
Prince concert – Dawn Ellmore Employment

Photographer retained copyright for her own work

While she carried out a number of creative projects for Prince, Dube failed to assign any of the rights in her designs or photography to the musician. In the lawsuit she maintains that this is because “Prince maintained a strong edict that an artist should retain control over his or her artistry.”

Since Prince died in 2016, Ms Dube alleges that his estate has been freely using her imagery on merchandise, record releases, advertising and various promotional material. She says they are using this without her permission and without the correct licensing.

Ms Dube adds that the estate is aware that they are using her personal work, as they have credited her as the photographer in some cases. In other situations, a representative from Prince’s estate contacted her to try and work out a licencing agreement.

Prince Dawn Ellmore Employment
Prince – Dawn Ellmore Employment

Asserting rights under Copyright Act

The lawsuit goes on to say that Ms Dube is now bringing this legal action “to assert her rights guaranteed under the Copyright Act.” It outlines how she wishes to retain the integrity of her artistic work, which is “currently being commercialised by the defendants and used for mass-marketing, advertising and mass-produced sales without her consent.”

Ms Dube is clear in the lawsuit that such use of her work is directly contrary to the artistic intent behind the works, and to Prince’s personal ethos. She wants the courts to grant an injunction that will bar any future use of her images or work by the estate. She also asks for damages to cover all past use of her work by the estate.

The interesting part about this lawsuit is the fact that Ms Dube chose not to sign over her work to Prince, due to his ethos surrounding artists holding the rights to their own creative work. Whether this holds up in court now that his estate has taken a different approach remains to be seen.