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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

Rapp says that it’s likely only a matter of time before SOPA and PIPA are re-introduced in Congress.

Geller is probably best known aroundtown not as the Grooveshark guy but as DJ Pauly Crush. For years, he’s been promoting parties and hosting a local club night at Back Booth called Crush.

He’s also a serial entrepreneur who has founded a handful of web-based businesses, including an SEO firm called National Metrics, which he sold in 2009. He’s CEO (“just technically, though,” according to his website) of guerrilla marketing agency Bigger Markets and president of Republic Promotion, an umbrella company that, according to his profile on LinkedIn, is “a holding company for all of my unincorporated projects.”

Geller got involved with Grooveshark about a year and a half ago, he says, after meeting the company’s founders at a party he was promoting at Club Firestone. Geller knows a promising startup when he sees one, and he was impressed with the platform Grooveshark had put together.

The company’s founders are two former University of Florida students: Sam Tarantino, 24, and Joshua Greenberg, 25. The founding lore is that Tarantino, an aspiring musician and broke economics major, got the idea for Grooveshark when he was on his way to donate plasma. He passed a record store with a sign in the window that said “buy/sell/trade CDs.” He thought it would be a good idea to apply that mantra to online music sharing and founded Escape Media Group, according to the company’s corporate profile, “with the goal of changing the music industry for the better.” In 2006, he met Greenberg, then a freshman studying business administration at UF, at an entrepreneurs club meeting.

“He pitched me on this idea of revolutionizing the music business and competing with piracy by offering a better product,” Greenberg said in an interview for an e-book called Startups Open Sourced. “I found it fascinating and he and I hit it off from day one. We were both kind of interviewing each other at the same time without calling it an interview.”

Greenberg already had some experience with file-sharing websites. Shortly after he started college, he and a group of classmates created a site called Campus Open Course, which allowed students to share class notes. In a story written about the site in Gainesville’s Independent Alligator newspaper, the founders of Campus Open Course said that it allowed students to upload their notes to a central server and sell textbooks via built-in message boards. In the story, the founders acknowledged that Campus Open Course could be used as a springboard for cheating, but said they’d built in a function that would allow users to flag “inappropriate” content.

In 2007, Greenberg and Tarantino launched the first iteration of Grooveshark, then redesigned it in 2008, making it a completely browser-based platform. Unlike other online-music services, there was no need to download software or files to use Grooveshark, and songs could be played straight from a user’s web-browser. Geller says the company does not discuss its funding sources, but a profile on Venture Beat Profiles, which offers information on startup companies, says that by 2007, Grooveshark had raised $900,000 in seed money to get it off the ground.

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