By Heejin Choi and Dorothy Du – Edited by Julie Dorais
This past August, the Digest summarized some of the legal challenges that major service providers of online music and video streaming faced. Below are updates of select stories:
Grooveshark – All Four Major Record Labels Are Now Suing
Back in August 2011, the Digest reported that Universal Music Group, a major record label, filed a copyright infringement suit against Grooveshark, the popular music streaming service. Universal accused Grooveshark employees of posting more than 100,000 pirated songs, CNET explains. The lawsuit is still pending, and Wired reports that Universal could be seeking the maximum damages of a whopping $150,000 per song. In December 2011, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group joined the lawsuit through an amended complaint, according to UPI. Most recently, on January 4, 2012, EMI Music Publishing sued Grooveshark’s parent company Escape Media for breach of contract, CNET reports. The New York Times reports that EMI has accused Grooveshark of failing to make a single royalty payment to EMI since signing a music licensing pact with EMI in 2009. CNET says Grooveshark maintains that it is protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s safe harbor provision, 17 U.S.C. §512(c), which immunizes online service providers from acts of copyright infringement committed by their users under certain conditions. With EMI’s suit, all four major record labels are now suing Grooveshark.
Cloud Music (Amazon, Google and Apple) – MP3tunes Decision Affirms Legality
JOLT Digest reported back in August 2011 that providers of “cloud music” services and apps, such as Amazon, Google, and Apple, may be vulnerable to suits for copyright infringement because the music uploaded by users could have illegal origins. On August 22, the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York handed down its opinion in a lawsuit by EMI against MP3tunes, a cloud-based online music locker service similar to those provided by Amazon, Google, and Apple. See Capitol Records, Inc. v. MP3tunes, LLC, 07 Civ. 9931 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 22, 2011). Wired explains that rather than requiring every user who wanted the same song to upload it separately, MP3tunes employed a bandwidth-saving strategy in which its software would check the server to see if the song was previously uploaded. If a match existed, the song would be added to the user’s digital music “locker” without requiring an upload. JOLT Digest summarized Judge Pauley’s opinion, which held that MP3tunes met the legal threshold to be protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s safe harbor provision.
The MP3tunes decision was good news for Google and Amazon because it affirmed the legality of cloud music services. Moreover, it cleared the way for them to take advantage of similar space-saving techniques. Up to then, both had required users to upload every song, regardless of whether it had previously been uploaded by another user, Wired reports. In November 2011, Apple launched a $25-a-year iTunes Match service, which, similar to MP3tunes, scans users’ iTunes music collection and cross-references the songs with its servers, according to Time Techland. That same week, Google Music launched. Mashable reports that the two services would compete with Amazon’s Cloud Player, which had been launched earlier. Amazon’s Cloud Player was removed from Apple’s App Store in November, however, because of “legal complications with the music industry,” Apple Insider states.
Although currently free of legal troubles, Google requested permission from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on February 1 to file an amicus brief in support of ReDigi. In its letter to the court on behalf of Google, Fenwick & West expressed concern over the case’s threat to the cloud computing industry. The court, however, denied Google’s request.
Zediva – Movie Streaming Service Closes Operations in Settlement Agreement
In October, 2011, the online movie streaming service Zediva and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) reached a settlement to resolve a lawsuit filed by Hollywood last April, as covered by The Hollywood Reporter. In August, 2011, the MPAA won a preliminary injunction to effectively shut down Zediva, which operated with no licensing agreements with the studios, Wired reports. The Digest covered the legal debate this past August. Zediva originally appealed this decision to the Ninth Circuit, according to The Hollywood Reporter, but has now agreed to permanently discontinue its services and resolve all claims for $1.8 million.
ReDigi – Court Denies Preliminary Injunction Against Used Music Dealer
On February 6, 2012, a federal district court judge denied Capitol Records’ request for a preliminary injunction against ReDigi, ExtremeTech reports. ReDigi sells “used” digital tracks using a software that it claims can identify files that have been legally purchased and restrict a user’s access to such files once the user sells them through its marketplace. This past January, Capitol Records sued ReDigi for copyright infringement in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (complaint available at Copyright’em) seeking both a preliminary injunction to shut down the website and $150,000 per track in damages. Capitol Records alleged that “ReDigi makes and assists its users in making systemic, repeated, and unauthorized reproductions and distributions of Plaintiff’s copyrighted sound recordings” and that it acts as a “clearinghouse for copyright infringement.” Judge Sullivan denied the request for the preliminary injunction on the basis that Capitol Records could not show irreparable harm, and the parties now await further proceedings, Intellectual Property Magazine reports. Wired.com hosts the brief order, and attorney Ray Beckerman’s website provides an excerpt of the court transcript. According to ExtremeTech, this suit could have important implications regarding the application of the “first sale doctrine” under the Copyright Act of 1976, by which the purchaser and owner of a product has the legal right to resell that product.
Heejin Choi is a 1L at Harvard Law School, and Dorothy Du is a 2L at Harvard Law School.