By: Kailyn Townsend
Prince Rogers Nelson. The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. The Purple One.
Whether you were old enough to remember the details of the fallout that led to renowned musician and entertainer Prince’s name change or so young that you thought “Love Symbol #2” was merely a piece of album artwork, Prince undoubtedly caused a controversy when he trademarked the symbol and began to use it in place of his name. The source of the name change arose in 1993 when Prince and his then-record label, Warner Bros., disputed over the financial and artistic control of his albums.
The contract covered six albums and allowed Prince to release up to one album a year. Prince’s creative desire to produce albums as frequently as he created music was not only inconsistent with his contract, but also with Warner Bros. distribution intentions. Warner Bros. allegedly wanted Prince to release fewer albums, so he would not flood the market and they could better promote him. Unable to come to a new agreement, Prince took the dispute public, soon after appearing with the word “Slave” written across his face. He then changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol referred to as “Love Symbol #2”. He remained unable to get out of his contract with Warner Bros, but he was able to produce albums under “Love Symbol #2” to fulfill his contractual obligations at a faster pace. A 1993 Paisley Park Records press release explained that the name change was Prince’s “emancipation” from Warner Bros. after the record label had ownership of his name and all related music marketed under “Prince."
In 1996, Prince launched a website called thedawn.com, and buried a document within it that was not linked from anywhere else on the site. Fans found a letter titled “Message from the Artist” where Prince explained why he changed his name to a symbol and his feelings about the industry in greater detail. The letter was taken down a few days after the website launch, but a tech blogger tracked down the text of the letter and posted it in a Medium.com article in 2016. In the letter, Prince explained that the 1993 Paisley Park Press release was a message to everyone but primarily a call for the entertainment industry, specifically music and musicians, to join in solidarity in reprieve from the greed of entertainment executives. Prince described the hierarchy of the music industry as a food chain with the artists at the very bottom and says that while recording labels are a natural a part of the food chain, they should not own the music just because they market and distribute it.
In August of 2017, The Pantone Color Institute, a global color and brand consulting service, and the Prince estate announced a new standardized color to represent and honor Prince’s life and legacy. The purple hue, represented by his “Love Symbol #2” was inspired by his custom-made Yamaha purple piano, which was originally scheduled to go on tour with the performer before his untimely death. The Pantone Color Institute is currently in conversation with partners to collaborate on products that incorporate the custom “Love Symbol #2” color. The color represented by Prince’s “Love Symbol #2” is not yet trademarked, but Pantone is responsible for the creation of several notable trademarked colors like Tiffany Blue, McDonald’s French Fry Gold, Mattel’s Barbie Pink, and UPS Brown, so “Love Symbol #2” is in good company to receive trademark protection at a later date. Still, Prince’s decision to trademark the “Love Symbol #2” itself provides some protection for use goods and services listed under the trademark registration as the symbol is formally used to communicate the name of the color. Prince had four federal trademark registrations for “Love Symbol #2” that were most recently renewed in 2014 and 2015:
U.S. Reg. No. 1,849,644 for entertainment services;
U.S. Reg. No. 1,871,900 for posters, publications, bumper stickers and stickers;
U.S. Reg. No. 1,860,429 for clothing; and
U.S. Reg. No. 1,822,461 for sound recordings and videotapes featuring music and
Prince had a zealous protectionary mindset over his creative abilities in writing, producing, singing and performing his music. He made a bold decision to maneuver the constraints of his contract and ultimately created a symbol that has become a lasting part of his brand and legacy. While the various shades of purple will always be attributed to Prince because of the film “Purple Rain” and the Academy-Award winning song of the same name, the declaration of Pantone’s “Love Symbol #2” as the official color of his brand and use of the symbol Prince created to communicate the color ensure that Prince’s legacy as an artist and entertainer will live on in perpetuity.