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EMI sues Grooveshark

By | Published on Friday 6 January 2012


So that’s nice, Grooveshark is not only being sued by Universal, Sony and Warner, but now EMI – the one major player the sometimes controversial streaming service had on board – is suing too. EMI Music Publishing filed a lawsuit against Grooveshark operators Escape Media on Wednesday, claiming the digital firm is in breach of the licensing agreement reached in 2009 at the conclusion of a previous legal dispute.

According to reports, the legal papers filed with the New York State Supreme Court claims Grooveshark “hasn’t made a single royalty payment to EMI, nor provided a single accounting statement” under the existing licensing deal, and that the digital firm now owes at least $150,000 in royalties.

As much previously reported, Grooveshark lets users upload content to the streaming platform’s libraries, meaning it frequently hosts content from labels which have not licensed the service. Grooveshark argues that it is an audio version of YouTube, that it operates a takedown system so that rights owners can have their content removed, and that it is therefore protected from copyright infringement claims under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

While many label execs would argue that Grooveshark does not deserve protection under the DMCA (and besides, such protection would only apply in the US, and Grooveshark operates globally), the whole takedown and safe harbour element of US copyright law is a bit wishy washy, and few want to test it in a high profile case that Grooveshark could win. To that end Universal’s lawsuit, now also backed by Sony and Warner, alleges that the digital firm’s own staff upload unlicensed content, which, if proven, would deprive the company of DMCA protection.

EMI’s lawsuit, as a more straightforward case of breach of contract, would also avoid having to test the DMCA safe harbour defence, assuming Grooveshark could be shown to be in breach of past agreements. Responding to the EMI action, Grooveshark said yesterday: “This is a contract dispute that we expect to resolve”.

Of course even without this week’s litigation, Grooveshark’s relationship with EMI – its one major label partner – was always going to be tested in 2012 given the likelihood that Universal and Sony will take control of the EMI catalogues at some point this year.