On the 23rd of April, 2013, a New York court of appeals ruled against Grooveshark, in a painful copyright lawsuit that involves Universal Music Group.
Nearly 2 years ago, on November 2011, Universal Music files suit against Grooveshark, blaming the service of infringing copyright. To make things worse, Sony Music and Warner joined in, also filing suit the next month.
Grooveshark had hoped that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act will provide with safe harbor; this Tuesday a New York court of appeals ruled that, due to an “anomaly” in the copyright law, the music service is liable of copyright infringement. To be more specific, the DMCA states that “safe harbor” does not apply for songs that were licensed before February 15, 1972.
Back in 1971, the US Congress mended the copyright laws by turning them into a federal matter. However, creations that were licensed before 1972 are to be regarded under the grasp of the common law and statues of US’ individual states.
“…any rights or remedies under the common law or statutes of any State shall not be annulled or limited by this Title until 2067,” the law states.
Having this “anomaly” as their trump, Universal Music pointed to the fact that Grooveshark is responsible for infringing copyright. “Buddy Holly, The Carpenters, Cat Stevens, Chuck Berry, The Jackson Five, The Mamas and the Papas, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Temptations, and The Who,” are just some of the songs Universal gave as an example in their 2010 filing.
While a previous court ruled in favor of Grooveshark, the NY court of appeals begged to differ. Their 17-page-long decision noted that:
Had the DMCA never been enacted, there would be no question that UMG could sue defendant in New York state courts to enforce its copyright in the pre-1972 recordings, as soon as it learned that one of the recordings had been posted on Grooveshark. However, were the DMCA to apply as defendant believes, that right to immediately commence an action would be eliminated. Indeed, the only remedy available to UMG would be service of a takedown notice on defendant. This is, at best, a limitation on UMG’s rights, and an implicit modification of the plain language of section 301(c). The word “limit” in 301(c) is unqualified, so defendant’s argument that the DMCA does not contradict that section because UMG still retains the right to exploit its copyrights, to license them, and to create derivative works, is without merit. Any material limitation, especially the elimination of the right to assert a common-law infringement claim, is violative of section 301(c) of the Copyright Act.M
In response, the music service argued that “if UMG’s interpretation of the DMCA were adopted, that act would be eviscerated.”
“Grooveshark has no easy way to distinguish which user-submitted sound recordings are covered by federal copyright versus state copyright. However, its legal liability depends [on] this difference. … Without universal protection from the DMCA’s safe harbor ‘notice-and-takedown’ scheme, Grooveshark may be required to pre-screen user uploads to assess whether the file is a pre-1972 sound recording or not, and then it may have to handle those files differently,” Eric Goldman of the Forbes wrote.
Despite this point of view, the judges in charge with the case wrote:
“It is not unreasonable, based on the statutory language and the context in which the DMCA was enacted, to [conclude] …that Congress intended for the DMCA only to apply to post-1972 works.”
“We reject defendant’s argument that the very purpose of the DMCA will be thwarted if it is deemed not to apply to the pre-1972 recordings,” they added.
Will YouTube (which is based on the same business model as Grooveshark) share the same fate? It’s not likely, since Google’s video service had signed a private contract which stipulates that Universal Music can take down its own copyrighted content at any point.
More on this as soon as we find out!