The days in which an internet service provider could sit idly by and allow users access to any website they choose may be coming to an end: A Danish court has issued an order forcing ISPs to block access to Grooveshark, an online music website that serves as a blend between a P2P and music streaming service. What makes Grooveshark unique is that its users have a large amount of control over playlists and songs they want to hear. Unlike Pandora, where users pick stations based on an artist or style of music, Grooveshark’s audience members can select an infinite amount of songs and add them to their playlists. Geek.com says Grooveshark has the biggest, best library of any music streaming service and the service also lets users upload their music so they can listen to songs anywhere. But might Grooveshark and the legal challenges against it all be swept up in a developing European approach to copyright enforcement and anti-piracy?
Where other sites like Pandora and Spotify get licenses for content, Grooveshark, at least in the United States, has been sued by major record labels with EMI joining Universal, Sony and Warner in a legal action against the company for failing to pay royalties. EMI was the only company that Grooveshark had a licensing deal with; after finding evidence that Grooveshark executives knew about and profited from infringements, EMI filed a complaint earlier this year.
In Denmark, the significance of the Danish decision rested not just in the rights-holders’ attack on Grooveshark but also in the filing seeking a court order against the three largest ISPs serving the northern European nation. Rights-holders assert that by providing access to Grooveshark, the ISPs infringed, too, on copyrights. The EU Copyright Directive lacks provisions to hold ISPs liable for failing to remove infringing material. Unlike with the DMCA in the United States that holds ISPs liable, the services in the EU are shielded from liability for actions by infringing sites. The Danish court challenge may compel ISPs to act on infringment claims, though they may not be held directly liable.
Critics call these types of court orders a heavy-handed censorship that blocks lawful content to avert copyright violations. Troels Moller, cofounder of internet think-tank Bitbureauet, in a recent interview with Torrent Freak said that forcing ISPs to block access to Groveshark “is an attack on free speech and basic Internet freedom. . .[and] It’s a slippery-slope into complete internet censorship.”
But cases in Britain (the Pirate Bay matter, as discussed elsewhere on the Biedermanblog) and in Spain, along with Madrid’s impending action on new anti-piracy laws (also discussed elsewhere on the Biedermanblog) point to a possible European trend in tackling not only firms accused of copyright infringements but also their suppporting ISPs. In the long run, the music industry may be forced to find an alternative to attacking ISPs in draconian fashion to get them to remove infringing content; that’s because blocking access to sites may cause a greater backlash from consumers eager to find content, whether through royalties-paying Pandora or Spotify — or Grooveshark. Rather than this tactic, however, the music and recording industry may find that its better, more lasting and definitive solution will be to develop ways to invent new revenue streams to generate money.