Grooveshark challenges Google and the music industry in a battle of legalities

In case you haven't been paying attention, there are some heated battles going on in digital space right now with regard to digital music distribution rights. Just three weeks ago, Amazon launched its cloud storage and streaming services, much to the chagrin of the major labels. As we wait for the reaction to that, we already have another issue as Google dropped Grooveshark's application from its store under legal concerns. Grooveshark's response? An open letter.

Grooveshark, of course, is a service that lets users stream their music across multiple devices. The company has multiple agreements with several major labels, many of them indies , and has a user base of millions of people. When Google removed Grooveshark from its marketplace, it claimed it was due to a violation of the Terms of Service, but didn't specify which ones.

In the letter from Grooveshark, Senior Vice President for Information Products Paul Geller sets the record straight from his company's point of view. First and foremost, it's worth pointing out that Grooveshark has subverted the official App Market after the removal and gone straight for a browser plug-in to enable its streaming service on most Android phones. That's just half the battle, though.

The fighting words Geller lays out are aimed not so much at Google, but at the music industry in general. In the final paragraph, he notes, "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 ideas for the sake of our users, who expect a modern delivery system and comprehensive access across devices. "

While much of the letter is showboating the importance of the service, it does bring about several key points: Grooveshark claims to be operating within the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, which protects technology that might enable illegal activities provided it's innovating under safe-harbor protections (similar to YouTube). That's mostly true, but when it comes to streaming and even cloud services, there isn't enough language in the law to fully comprehend the original intention of the bill. After all, "streaming" could someday be a dirty word.

For what it's worth, the website and service is still up and running; it's just the Android app that has been removed. But that doesn't make what Grooveshark is doing any less important. Or Amazon, for that matter. The DMCA was created in 1998; it has been used in countless lawsuits and has slowly but surely been updated and interpreted to meet modern demands. Still, we're desperately in need of DMCA reform, and in light of new moves being made by major players in the industry, it needs to happen sooner rather than later.

Click through to read Grooveshark's open letter to Google

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

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