LONDON, England (CNN) -- What has Prince done?
Can I hear the sound of fans complaining?
The purple-clad pop star has threatened to take legal action against fan-run Web sites unless they remove photos of him. The 49-year-old singer is looking to have any album covers or images of him in concert and any lyrics removed from the sites.
Web Sheriff -- a UK firm that is policing the matter says the dispute is related to use of images of Prince -- many of which are his copyright.
Prince's lawyers have forced three Internet fan sites to remove images in a letter that asks them to provide "substantive details of the means by which you propose to compensate our clients [Paisley Park Entertainment Group, NPG Records and AEG for damages]."
What do the fans say?
Not surprisingly the fan groups are angry at Prince -- after all they are fans, meaning they adore their diminuitive hero and operate and maintain the Web sites without pay.
Prince Fans United -- an amalgamation of his fan groups -- says the star is trying to "stifle all critical commentary about Prince" and he is violating their freedom of speech. A spokesman for the fan Web site says around 80 percent of the images used are not copyrighted by Prince: "For example there are photos taken of him in concert where the copyright remains with the photographer." He said all the Web sites were run on a "voluntary unpaid basis," with none of the sites operating commercially.
Nicola Slade, editor of the Record of the Day, a music industry newsletter, told the Telegraph newspaper: "It's a really short-sighted and futile move. Prince has got a lot of fans and as he's decided to take a more left-field approach to releasing his material, he should be nurturing the relationship. I'm shocked."
So it's a fair guess that Prince is protective of his image?
Absolutely. In his long career Prince has frequently tried to control his image and distribution of his music -- often using novel ways to express his independence from the corporate giants.
In 1990 he fell out with his record company Warner Brothers over the ownership of the master tapes. He changed his name and wrote the word "Slave" on his cheek during public appearances in protest about the record company.
The singer also was one of the first artists to sell his music to fans via his own Web site in a move that cut out his record label Universal from the equation. During his recent residency at the 02 arena in London fans were banned from taking footage or photographs on their mobile phones with security searching bags.
Last September Web Sheriff monitored the removal of 2,000 unauthorized Prince clips from the Web including, controversially, asking a mother from Pennsylvania to remove a clip of her baby dancing to a 1984 Prince song "Let's Go Crazy." Lawyers are fighting the claim saying it is "fair use" and that the song is barely audible.
Is it a bad move for Prince?
Prince was riding high with fans following a successful 21-night residency in London and had been lauded as a marketing genius when he gave away copies of his CD and did a deal with mass-market tabloid The Mail on Sunday to distribute free copies with the paper.
But even a quick surf on Prince's fan sites reveal a nasty mood towards the singer. Says fan site Housequake.com: "Many fans are aware of the ongoing requests that have been made from various attorneys and representatives of Prince / NPG Records, however the time has come to show support for the fan communities that have worked unpaid to allow freedom of expression and discussion."
They have formed a coalition with other sites to fight the move. The sites now look quite bare with photos of Prince and album covers being taken down and replaced by the words: "Image removed, without prejudice at the request of Prince's representatives."
Caroline Kean a partner at law firm Wiggin, told The Guardian newspaper: "You can get things taken down, the legal tools are there to do it. The reason people don't is partly practical, because there are so many images, but also due to the bad publicity you get going after your biggest fans. Most people soon realized it was counter-productive." E-mail to a friend
All About Prince (Musician)