The People Formerly Known as Fans

Faced with a lawsuit from their idol, online Prince worshipers turn the tables on the Artist

"I would be advising Prince not to sue [his own fans]," Herbert adds. "But Prince is one of the smartest guys I know, and he has the best people working for him. There just has to be more to the story than what you and I know."

Diana Dawkins has an inkling as to what the rest of the story might be. The Massachusetts-based business consultant began publishing a biweekly newsletter called The Prince Family after losing her job at the official Prince magazine, Controversy, when the publication shut down in 1992. Two years later, Dawkins says, NPG Records management asked her to help coordinate a new effort that would bring fanzines and Web sites under the umbrella of a Prince-led venture. She declined, saying she preferred to remain independent. But other zine publishers took up the Artist's invitation, and in 1997, Prince launched love4oneanother.com—a compilation of fan sites overseen by a group of coordinators referred to as "The Collective." In an interview posted on the site, Prince explained: "My own personal objectives [for the site] change daily. . . . That is y eye defer 2 the people at Paisley Park that eye love and respect the most. 4 me, the initial objective was 2 have a visible place 4 my thoughts."

Dawkins, however, says she suspects the Artist's true goal was to control his fans. Although Dawkins is not a defendant in the recent lawsuits, she says she quit publishing her newsletter after hearing about the case; she is currently auctioning off her entire Prince collection through her Web site (members.aol.com/princefam/index.html).

In April, UPTOWN countersued Prince, claiming that his suit is an attempt at "eliminating economic competition [and] securing a monopoly for the love4oneanother Web site . . . and stifling free expression" through a "malicious abuse of process." The attorneys have also filed a motion demanding that the Artist appear for a deposition in New York on June 25. Traci Bransford, the Paisley Park Enterprises corporate lawyer, says Prince is fighting the motion and is confident he won't have to make his case under oath. But Hahn argues that recent precedent suggests otherwise. "If the president of the United States can be deposed," he offers, "then so can Prince."

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