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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

The bills’ sponsors and supporters insisted that the goal was not to destroy the open exchange of information on the web, but to target foreign sites that traffic in copyright infringement. Opponents – which included Craigslist, Google, Wikipedia, Tumblr and Facebook, among many others – say it could easily have put many of the most popular websites out of business for good.

SOPA was supposed to be voted on as soon as this month, but the overwhelmingly negative response created a panic in Congress. In a matter of 24 hours, supporters of SOPA and PIPA backed down, and according to current information available on the web, 205 of 260 members of Congress who’ve expressed opinions on the bills say they would likely vote no on them as they are currently written.

The sudden about-face was good news for Grooveshark. Though the site’s terms of service state that users should not post material they don’t own the copyright for, people upload whatever they want. The site boasts a vast catalog of more than 15 million songs (a tagline at the bottom of its homepage tells visitors they can “find any song in the world and listen to it instantly”), many of which are major-label releases that Grooveshark may or may not have license to share.

Geller says that the site complies with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which requires sites like Grooveshark to remove content posted by users that violates copyright; as long as the sites abide by the DMCA, they exist in a “safe harbor” territory – as long as they take down content as requested, they can legally continue to operate. Grooveshark relies on that safe harbor to exist, and it has a DMCA takedown-request form on its website, which it urges artists and labels to use to get their songs off the system. After all, it would be unwieldy, if not impossible, for a company to sift through millions of songs or videos or cute cat photos to find the ones that were uploaded without consent from a copyright owner.

“DMCA puts the onus on content holders to notify YouTube, or whomever, that a copyright violation exists,” Geller says. “SOPA would have done the opposite, making YouTube responsible for policing their users.”

SOPA and PIPA would have most certainly put Grooveshark out of business. YouTube, Tumblr, Reddit and others would have most likely gone with it. Geller says he thinks that was by design. The motion-picture and the recording industries, which made a massive push for the bills, say piracy is a $58 billion loss for the U.S. economy annually; proponents of file-sharing sites, though, say the way people consume information and entertainment is changing. Sites that provide access to content the recording and film industries rely on to make a profit threaten the industries. They don’t want Grooveshark, YouTube, Vimeo and other such sites to offer for free the same products and services they are trying to find new ways to monetize. Rather than work with the competition on innovative new products, Geller says, Hollywood and the recording industry would rather do away with it.

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