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Michael Robertson found liable for MP3tunes infringement

By | Published on Thursday 20 March 2014

Michael Robertson

So yes, EMI may no longer exist as a standalone entity, and early-to-market music-based digital locker service MP3tunes may have gone bankrupt, but none of that stopped the legal battle between the two from rumbling on. Partly because MP3tunes founder Michael Robertson failed to have the legal case against him personally thrown out of court.

As much previously reported, MP3tunes, created by original creator Robertson, was one of the original music-specific digital locker services to reach the market. EMI sued the new company and Robertson himself in 2007, claiming that the operation infringed its copyrights. And so a long drawn out legal squabble began.

It initially looked like the case might result in some clarity on to what extent a basic music-focused digital locker service could operate without a licence from the music companies, though in the end much of the legal argument focused on a specific side-service offered by MP3tunes that enabled users to compile and share lists of music files they had found online (much of which was available via a sister site called

The initial judgement on the case did make some criticisms of MP3tunes, though in the main the digital start-up won the key arguments. But EMI appealed, and so the dispute continued, even as MP3tunes ceased to exist as a company and EMI was split up and sold to Universal Music and a Sony-led consortium.

And this time, with a jury considering the case, the ruling is sort of the other way around, with some of the infringement claims against Robertson discounted, but the key elements of the dispute going in EMI’s favour. Crucially, the jury reckoned that there was a case for holding Robertson liable for some of the infringement claims, both for direct involvement in distributing unlicensed files and for being “wilfully blind” to other copyright infringement on his site.

As we say, although the MP3tunes squabble had the potential to test the legalities of unlicensed music locker services in the US, in the end those specific facts of the case mean wide-ranging precedents are unlikely to be set. And anyway, most of the big music-specific cloud storage services these days – like those run by Apple, Google and Amazon – are licensed anyway in order to offer more sophisticated scan-and-match services.

It’s also unclear whether the ruling offers any more clarity on the protection the Digital Millennium Copyright Act offers US-based web operators who allow users to upload or link to unlicensed content files, also the topic of the now settled Viacom v YouTube litigation. Though lawyers for EMI seem to reckon that the inclusion of the “wilfully blind” point in the ruling against Robertson could have impact on future disputes.

Meanwhile the court now needs to decide what damages Robertson should pay EMI for all that infringement.