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NEWS

Eagle vs. shark

Grooveshark gets hooked by a $17 billion lawsuit — and brings the national debate over copyright infringement to Central Florida

Photo: Cover design by Jeff Drew, License: N/A

Cover design by Jeff Drew

Photo: Paul Geller, License: N/A

Paul Geller

Photo: Paul Geller, License: N/A

Paul Geller


There’s a price on Paul Geller’s head – $17 billion, to be exact.

That’s the amount that UMG Recordings, an arm of multimedia giant Universal, is suing Geller and his employer for in a federal court in New York. The 29-year-old Geller has been personally named, along with the other senior executives of the Gainesville-based Escape Media Group, as a defendant in a copyright infringement suit targeting the company’s magnum opus: the online-streaming music site Grooveshark. The site, one of the largest and most well-known free music sites on the Internet, allows its users to upload songs directly to its servers. The songs are then made available to anyone who wants to listen to them for free with no strings attached – there’s no obligation, no need to download software, no need to sign up for the service.

The suit accuses Geller, senior vice president of external affairs for Grooveshark, company co-founders Sam Tarantino and Joshua Greenberg, vice president of public relations Benjamin Westermann-Clark, creative director Josh Ashenden, software developer Chanel Munezero and quality assurance employee Nikola Arabadjiev of intentionally uploading thousands of songs that the company didn’t own the license to. If the court rules against Grooveshark, the company could be through, and Geller and his colleagues could be forced to pay some serious restitution.

But right now, Geller is pretty upbeat. And he has good reason to be. For the time being, public opinion and the law are on his side.

In addition to the UMG lawsuit, Grooveshark has been fighting two measures that would have a more immediate and dramatic impact on its well-being: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), both of which were designed to put sites like Grooveshark out of business without the messy, costly and time-consuming trappings of a federal lawsuit.

On Jan. 18, more than 7,000 websites participated in a massive protest of the federal government’s attempt to pass the two bills. If implemented, they would have forced sites that allow users to upload their own content (including Grooveshark, YouTube, Flickr, SoundCloud, Wikipedia, Facebook and too many others to even count) to make sure that nothing posted by users – songs, videos, images, clips from TV shows – infringed on someone else’s copyright. If the sites failed to comply, the bills would have given the owners of the copyrighted material broad recourse: They could have sought injunctions to prevent payment processors, like Visa or PayPal, from doing business with the offenders, or force Internet service providers to pull the plug on the sites altogether. If Grooveshark, for instance, allowed a user to upload a Lady Gaga album the site didn’t own a license for, the bill could have taken Grooveshark down; likewise, if Google allowed sites containing potentially infringing content – like Grooveshark – to come up in search results, the U.S. Department of Justice would have been able to seek court injunctions requiring Google to block or censor those sites from searches completely, not unlike how China requires search engines to block objectionable content.

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