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Spinrilla hits back at labels lawsuit

By | Published on Monday 20 March 2017


The popular hip hop mixtape sharing app that was recently sued by the Recording Industry Association Of America last week filed its response, calling for the case to be dismissed partly on safe harbour grounds, and partly on the basis that the labels keep asking it to promote their music.

As previously reported, when it went legal against Spinrilla last month, the RIAA said that the app “specialises in ripping off music creators by offering thousands of unlicensed sound recordings for free”. It added that “fans today have access to millions upon millions of songs from innovative platforms and services that pay creators” and therefore “this kind of illicit activity has no place in today’s music marketplace”.

Unofficial, unlicensed mixtapes have long been part of hip hop culture of course, with many acts first coming to attention that way. The record industry has generally turned a blind eye to the distribution of such mixtapes providing they are not commercialised, though as the labels got more rigorous at managing their content on sites like SoundCloud it became more common for unofficial mixes to be blocked on those platforms.

This is probably one of the reasons why Spinrilla became so popular, with mixtape makers and hip hop fans alike. And, it would seem, with at least some label marketers. Though the record industry’s lawyers clearly reckon that the Spinrilla company, which offers a nominally priced premium option, is now in the business of commercialising the unofficial mixtape, and that’s why it’s time to cry foul.

In its legal response, published in full by Torrentfreak, Spinrilla argues that it has in the past had a good working relationship with the very labels that are now suing it.

The digital firm states: “Plaintiffs and defendants have been co-operating for years in a variety of ways to successfully prevent and remove unauthorised music from Plaintiffs and defendants have also co-operated when plaintiffs have requested that its music be promoted and distributed by Spinrilla. This co-operation can and should continue as it benefits not only the parties to this lawsuit, but more importantly, it benefits independent artists and their millions of fans”.

If the labels want to now play hardball – the legal submission continues – well, look at the lovely safe harbour we’re dwelling in you litigious fuckers. I paraphrase slightly.

The legal filing says: “In the event plaintiffs no longer wish to partner with Spinrilla and instead prosecute infringement claims against defendants, defendants are shielded from liability by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. By enacting the DMCA, Congress recognised that valuable services such as Spinrilla would not exist if they were liable for content uploaded to their servers. For that reason, Congress wisely chose to protect services such as Spinrilla – protection Spinrilla has earned and deserves”.

To get safe harbour protection from the DMCA, Spinrilla must operate a takedown system that enables rights owners to get unlicensed content removed. The digital firm, of course, insists it operates such a system and indeed it does. The question is, is it a good enough takedown system? Which leads us back to the debate as to what exactly constitutes a good enough takedown system, given the DMCA is pretty vague on that point.

Though, while the takedown procedure outlined on Spinrilla’s website – basically encouraging rights owners to send them an email – looks pretty basic, in its legal filing last week the company said it also uses Audible Magic’s content identification system to help rights owners police their content on its platform, a technology it says it employed at the recommendation of the labels. Meanwhile it insists that it responded promptly to the 400+ takedown requests it has received by email.

It remains to be seen how the RIAA now responds, though if the dispute does proceed to court, it will be another test of the safe harbours under America copyright law. With the extra fun of Spinrilla likely arriving at court with all the emails from marketing types at the labels pushing for promo on the mixtape platform.