Companies like YouTube and Grooveshark are at the center of the ongoing controversies around online distribution of copyrighted materials. This controversy reared its ugly head earlier this month when the Grooveshark app was removed from the Android Market. While this disappointed many of the users who stream all their favourite tunes without having to posses an actual digital copy, Google was justified in kicking these pseudo-pirates out of the Market, right? Not so, says Grooveshark.
In protest to Google's decision to drop the app, Grooveshark has re-released it to the public. Although the app is still absent from the Market, it has been made available on Grooveshark's mobile website. Unfortunately, not all Android users are able to get the app onto their devices, as some carriers (*cough* AT&T) prevent installation of non-Market applications.
In an interesting turn of events, Grooveshark also put out an open letter to the music industry today via Digital Music News (available in full at the bottom of this page). In it they state that it was unclear which aspects of Google's Terms of Service the music streaming app violated. They also defended the legality, and even the importance, of the service they provide. Grooveshark maintains that they operate a legal service "within the boundaries of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA)" and that they are indeed doing the music industry a service by utilizing the Safe Harbour component of the DMCA, which "encourages technology companies to innovate in hopes that they will eventually solve some of the problems that are plaguing content producers today." Many of the producers who partner with Grooveshark - and there are many - are paid a fee by the company, along with getting secondary benefits such as promotion of tours and sales, targeting for marketing dollars, and the ability to test singles or merchandise with surveys or panels.
Grooveshark also states that they aren't stopping the defense of their activities with this letter. They "will defend [their] service, and the letter and the spirit of the law, in court and in Congress." Them's fightin' words. And we like 'em! The music industry has been dragging their feet in adopting new ways to harness the Internet for monetization of their content. Let's hope that Grooveshark can keep up the good fight and help improve the delivery of media for both producers and consumers.
On April 6, 2011, Grooveshark learned the hard way what happens to companies that fail to respond to misleading press created by their detractors and competitors. Google removed our app from the Android Marketplace at approximately 5pm PST on Friday April 1st at the request of the RIAA.
Google hasn't specified what it was in their "Terms of Service" that we allegedly violated, but there does appear to be some confusion about whether Grooveshark is a legal service. So let's set the record straight: there is nothing illegal about what Grooveshark offers to consumers.
Yet some are confused as to how we are legal. First, there is a distinction between legal and licensed. Laws come from Congress. Licenses come from businesses. Grooveshark is completely legal because we comply with the laws passed by Congress, but we are not licensed by every label (yet). We are a technology company, and we operate within the boundaries of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA). Some would have you believe that those of us who use the DMCA to innovate are inherently infringers and that claiming Safe Harbor under the DMCA is as good as admitting guilt. Not so.
The DMCA's Safe Harbor component encourages technology companies to innovate in hopes that they will eventually solve some of the problems that are plaguing content producers today. The Safe Harbor provision reads like it was written specifically for YouTube and Grooveshark, and its necessity continues to be illustrated every day. If it weren't for this notion, many of the products and services that are now taking a bite out of piracy would never have been born.
With that said, Grooveshark doesn't just rely on the protection of the law. We have worldwide licensing from over a thousand labels — large and small. We pay the three major U.S. performing rights organizations, as well as some international bodies, and are actively pursuing agreements with those that we don't. We recently signed Merlin, which included the Merge catalog. This was a particularly happy day for us because it brought The Arcade Fire into the family. We pay for our streams, and we actively negotiate with virtually every single content owner. We've taken down over 1.76 million files and suspended upload privileges to 22,274 users. These are not the characteristics of a company "dedicated to copyright infringement". As we work with artists and labels to make more content available to our users, Grooveshark becomes more competitive as an alternative to piracy.
Content partners use Grooveshark to make targeted marketing spends, support tours and sales, and test singles and high-ticket merchandise with surveys and exclusive panels. The Grooveshark model puts us in a unique position as the only source for unadulterated consumption data from over twenty-five million unique monthly users in more than 150 countries. We are translated into 24 languages, which helps us monetize developing economies and deliver revenues to content owners from territories where extracting revenue formerly proved too difficult. Labels, managers, and artists that take advantage of our full gamut of services know how effectively Grooveshark's application can streamline expenses and generate revenue.
In light of the recent misleading press concerning Grooveshark's application, it is important to make clear that we will defend our service, and the letter and the spirit of the law, in court and in Congress. We will defend our name and our ideals for the sake of our users who expect modern delivery systems and comprehensive access across devices, for the sake of artists and content owners who fear another decade of decline, and for other innovators who continue to bring new ideas to market through the expression of creativity in the form of technology.
We ask that Google and Apple, embrace the spirit of competition and do right by users in making our applications available to consumers immediately.
—Paul Geller, Grooveshark.com