MP3tunes sees mixed outcome in EMI suit

If a user adds pirated music to an online cloud locker service, is the provider responsible? No, according to a decision made in a New York federal court on Monday.

In the ruling, District Judge William H. Pauley III—of the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York—pronounced that MP3tunes may claim protection under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for musical works stored on its website or linked to from its sister site, Sideload.com. Known informally as the “safe harbor” provision, the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act provides protection for providers and websites that accidentally infringe on copyright due to user action. (YouTube, among other companies, uses this protection for its day-to-day operations.)

Specifically, the decision refers to music from EMI and the fourteen other record companies and publishers—collectively referred to as EMI—who brought the copyright infringement action against MP3tunes and its founder and CEO Michael Robertson. Some 3189 sound recordings, 562 musical compositions, and 328 images of album cover art were at issue in the lawsuit, filed in 2007.

MP3tunes did not promote infringement, wrote Judge Pauley in the 29-page ruling. “Rather it removed infringing links to Sideload.com when given notice, and terminated the accounts of users who blatantly shared copyright files with others.”

“While a reasonable person might conclude after some investigation that the websites used by MP3tunes executives were not authorized to distribute EMI’s copyrighted works, the DMCA does not place the burden of investigation on the Internet service provider,” he added in reference to a charge by EMI that MP3tunes executives had downloaded music from infringing sites.

MP3tunes is at fault, however, for failing to remove songs added to MP3tunes user lockers using infringing links identified in EMI takedown notices.

As a result, the judge ruled that MP3tunes can be held liable for “contributory infringement.” He also noted that Robertson was liable for any infringing tracks he had personally downloaded and stored in his own account.

Robertson, who founded and later sold MP3.com after a copyright infringement action, set up MP3tunes in February 2005. The company offers a locker service that allows users to upload their music and play it on any Internet device. In a blog post, Robertson described the ruling, on the whole, as “definitely a victory for cloud music and MP3tunes’ business model after a multi-year litigation battle.”

Those in the industry that have built or are contemplating building a personal music service (such as Amazon, Google, Grooveshark, or Dropbox) will surely have renewed confidence in offering similar unlicensed services, Robertson added.

EMI could not be immediately reached for comment.

[John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John’s email address is john_ribeiro@idg.com]

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