Music Companies Say Grooveshark Destroyed Records in Copyright Case

Music companies involved in litigation against Grooveshark have asked a federal judge to sanction the music streaming service’s owner for destroying records the plaintiffs say would have shown the extent to which Grooveshark engaged in copyright infringement.

Universal Music Group (UMG), Warner Bros. Records, and Sony Music say that Escape Media Group Inc., which owns Grooveshark, destroyed records even though copyright infringement litigation was pending.

Grooveshark’s on-demand music streaming service allows users to listen, for free, to songs from a playlist of more than 15 million tracks.  The company’s revenue model is based on advertising.

UMG initially sued Grooveshark in New YorkState court in 2011.  In April, 2013, a New York court of appeals ruled against Grooveshark for its posting of pre-1972 song recordings, including songs by Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry.  The New York court concluded that the music was not covered by the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA, under some circumstances, shields internet service providers from copyright infringement liability if they promptly remove copyrighted works from their websites when asked to do so by the copyright owners.

Grooveshark has agreements with owners of many sound recordings, but also allows its 35 million users to upload songs.  Thus, it cannot be certain that all of its content is non-infringing.

Some artists, including Robert Fripp of King Crimson, have complained that their music remained on Grooveshark despite several takedown notices.  Music label executives said that they had sent hundreds of thousands of takedown notices to Grooveshark only to see the songs reappear within seconds.

UMG and the other plaintiffs also sued Grooveshark in federal court, saying that the service engaged in copyright infringement on a large scale.  The suit cited emails from Grooveshark executives that appeared to boast of “achieving all this growth without paying a dime to any of the [music] labels.”

If Grooveshark and its executives are found guilty of willful copyright infringement, the maximum penalty could be $150,000 for each work infringed.

The plaintiffs claim that missing information includes evidence of Grooveshark’s Chief Technology Officer’s uploads, even though the plaintiffs demanded that these records be maintained.

Stay up-to-date on the latest Intellectual Property Law news from Sheldon Mak & Anderson.

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