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25 Apr 10:40

Court denies Grooveshark DMCA protection for songs like “Johnny B. Goode”

by Megan Geuss
Doug Wibby

Copyright law is so broken, and plenty of people are living off the broken bits.

Peter Zimmerman

On Tuesday, a New York state appellate court made a curious decision in a matter being litigated between Grooveshark parent company Escape Media Group, Inc. and UMG Recordings, Inc. The court ruled that due to an oddity in copyright law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act does not apply to songs that were licensed under state law before February 15, 1972. As such, for these recordings, Grooveshark is not eligible for what is known as safe harbor—an immunity to liability if users upload copyrighted works without the website's knowledge.

As a website that allows users to upload their recordings, Grooveshark's business model depends on the DMCA. Users upload songs on Grooveshark and are warned about uploading copyrighted material. If a rights holder discovers that a user has uploaded a copyrighted song, the rights holder notifies Grooveshark. As long as the website takes the song down quickly enough, Grooveshark avoids being held responsible for the infringement.

But an anomaly in copyright law is throwing a wrench in that system. In 1971, Congress overhauled copyright laws, making most protection a federal matter. However, recordings copyrighted before February 15, 1972 would remain under the purview of the common law and statues of the individual states. The new federal copyright prescriptions noted that “any rights or remedies under the common law or statutes of any State shall not be annulled or limited by this Title until 2067.”

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