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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

A month before the feds pounced on it, Megaupload founder Kim “Dotcom” Schmitz had announced that the company would soon be releasing a new cloud-based music service called MegaBox.

“UMG knows that we are going to compete with them via our own music venture called MegaBox.com, a site that will soon allow artists to sell their creations directly to consumers while allowing artists to keep 90 percent of earnings,” Schmitz told the website Torrentfreak late last year. Now the Internet is abuzz with speculation about whether the Recording Industry Association of America and Motion Picture Association of America – both of which have close ties in Congress – were able to assert pressure on Congress to be aggressive with intellectual property theft in general, and Megaupload in particular.

This marks a new era in the enforcement of intellectual property laws – one that veers away from the unpopular and heavy-handed efforts in the early 2000s to punish teenagers and their parents by bringing cases against those who used services (like the now-defunct Napster) to download copyrighted music and videos, in favor of cracking down more aggressively on the sites that host such content.

SOPA and PIPA would have made it far easier for copyright holders to prevent sites from hosting that content in the first place, but they failed to take into account the fact that so many consumers these days patronize these sites that many don’t even think of downloading as theft anymore.

“I’ve got 70 days worth of music on my computer and if I had to pay 99 cents for every track I have, there would be several million dollars out of my pocket,” says Paul Rapp, a copyright attorney based in western Massachusetts. “I have an 18-year-old daughter who hasn’t paid for a piece of music in years and wouldn’t think of doing it. The labels have to look at a different model, something like a Grooveshark or a Spotify or the Rhapsody streaming service, where you are providing a service rather than a good. Where people can listen to whatever they want, wherever they are.”

Rapp says it would make more sense for those with copyright interests to look at how (and whether) current copyright laws function in the Internet age.

“Suddenly everyone has in their homes the most powerful duplication and communication devices ever known, and they simply render an awful lot of copyright irrelevant, because people just don’t care,” he says. “They are going to share stuff with other people and they are going to create works based on pre-existing works. I saw one speaker at a music conference say that the Internet is an infringement machine, that’s what it does, and there’s no getting around it. It’s evolutionary. And any attempt to stop it is going to fail. It’s just that the entertainment industry has been playing this ridiculous losing game of whack-a-mole for 10 years, and they haven’t stopped infringement and they haven’t slowed it down.”

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