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Spinrilla wants no talk of “piracy” as majors head to court seeking $600 million in damages

By | Published on Wednesday 15 March 2023


Mixtape sharing platform Spinrilla wants all talk about music piracy – and the history of music piracy – excluded from an upcoming court hearing into how much cash it should hand over the major record companies as part of an ongoing copyright dispute. The majors, for their part, want a ban on any talk by Spinrilla about their surging revenues

The majors first sued Spinrilla in the US in 2017, accusing the mixtape service of infringing their copyrights by allowing their music to be included in mixes without licence.

For its part, Spinrilla argued that it had previously had good relationships with the record companies, many of which had sought inclusions in the mixes it hosted for promotional purposes.

It also stressed that it had a system in place to respond to requests by copyright owners to have unlicensed music removed, even working with a record industry approved audio ID company in order to run that system.

That latter point was basically Spinrilla claiming protection under the good old copyright safe harbour which stops digital platforms from being held liable for any infringement conducted by their users, providing they meet various conditions.

However, in 2020 the judge overseeing the case ruled by summary judgement that Spinrilla had not met said conditions, so did not have safe harbour protection, and was therefore liable for infringement.

Which means Spinrilla needs to pay the majors some lovely damages. But how much damages? Well, that’s to be decided by a jury in an upcoming court hearing.

But the majors are pushing for statutory damages in relation to 4082 tracks shared without licence on the mixtape platform. And if the jury are convinced Spinrilla’s copyright infringement was wilful, they could award $150,000 per track – meaning total damages in excess of $600 million.

Which is why Spinrilla wants to stop the labels form using emotive language in court, in a bid to avoid its infringements being deemed wilful, so to keep the damages bill down. And to that end it recently filed motions with the court – published by Torrentfreak yesterday – seeking some rules to stop such emotive chatter on the music companies’ part.

“Defendants anticipate that plaintiffs will use disparaging terms such as ‘pirates’, ‘piracy’ or ‘thieves’ to brand defendants as deliberate, wilful wrongdoers to predispose the jury to awarding higher damages”, one of those motions states. “Because plaintiffs’ use of the terms is designed solely to prejudice the jury, the court should bar their use by plaintiffs”.

“For years, the music industry has sought to convince the public that it was under siege by ‘thieves, trespassers, pirates, or parasites'”, it goes on. “Defendants anticipate that plaintiffs will continue to refer to piracy and pirates so that the jury will be predisposed to find the defendants acted wilfully”.

But, it argues, “these terms are not evidentiary, have no probative value, and are highly inflammatory such that they will create undue prejudice. Accordingly, the court should bar plaintiffs from referring to defendants as ‘pirates’ or having engaged in ‘piracy’ or ‘theft’ or other similarly disparaging words”.

In another motion, Spinrilla notes that, during the upcoming court hearing, the labels also plan to talk about the history of online piracy and the impact it had on the music community. But the mixtape platform doesn’t want any of that chatter either.

Because such a history lesson has nothing to do with “the facts of this case” and is therefore “irrelevant and prejudicial”, it argues, adding: “[Such] testimony should be excluded because it has nothing to do with Spinrilla’s actions at issue in this case and is highly prejudicial”.

However, it seems, Spinrilla itself is quite keen to talk about the more recent history of digital music, ie how after fifteen years of decline – in part because of piracy – the record industry has seen its revenues surge in recent years thanks to the streaming boom.

The mixtape site’s lawyers seemingly want to bring all that up by presenting recent financial statements and documents from the major labels and their parent companies.

In their own filing with the court, the majors state that: “Evidence or argument related to plaintiffs’ parent corporations has no bearing on the issues to be tried, is certain to cause jury confusion as to the significance of such materials in setting an appropriate amount of statutory damages, and would be highly prejudicial to the plaintiffs”.

“Given the irrelevant and prejudicial nature of this evidence and argument”, they add, “the financial statements, and any related testimony, should be excluded at trial”.

We now await to see what limitations the judge decides to put on the upcoming damages hearing.