Updated: Universal Music Group Wins Appeal Against Grooveshark

Court reverses recent copyright suit involving Universal Music Group and Grooveshark.

(from billboard.biz, April 23, 2013) An important digital copyright lawsuit was recently reversed by the New York State Supreme Court. Universal Music Group filed a suit against Escape Media Group Inc. claiming that the company had violated copyright laws by allowing users to upload unlicensed music recorded prior to 1972 from the Universal catalog. The court overturned the lower court’s decision, preventing music streaming sites to upload material recorded prior to 1972, citing that the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) does not provide “safe harbor” for such material.

The recent reversal of the copyright lawsuit has implications beyond Grooveshark, a music streaming site, and its parent company, Escape Media Group. Sites like YouTube and SoundCloud might need to search through their own sites for copyright material recorded prior to 1972. The DMCA grants online providers like Grooveshark protection against copyright litigation for recordings made from 1972 and onward.  The court’s decision stated, “…the Copyright Act was amended in 1971 to include sound recordings, Congress expressly extended federal copyright protection only to recordings ‘fixed’ on February 15, 1972 or after.”

This ruling means that music streaming sites who allow users to upload pre-1972 sound recordings are liable for copyright infringement. Copyright owners no longer have to notify a site about copyright material, they can simply file suit. A similar case was decided in 2001 by the U.S. District Court, Capitol Records Inc. had filed suit against MP3Tunes. In this case the court ruled that the DMCA did provide a “safe harbor” for providers uploading material recorded prior to the 1972 date.

Since different courts have come to different decisions about the copyright infringement of pre-1972 sound recordings, there will certainly be more litigation to follow this issue. Grooveshark’s attorney, John Rosenberg, said the company plans to appeal the decision, and seek, “legislative action…not only for its own interest but for the industry as a whole.”