In an age of instant access to huge quantities of free media, the speed and the stakes of the race to provide are growing. And with higher speed and bigger stakes, it’s no surprise that the game becomes more dangerous.
Grooveshark is the latest digital media provider to fall prey to the hazards of the industry. The free music-streaming website, built in the image of Pandora and LimeWire, is now facing legal action from production company Universal Music Group. Universal is suing Grooveshark and parent company Escape Media Group Inc. for illegally uploading music. At a charge of $150,000 per illegal upload, Grooveshark stands to owe approximately $15 billion, which, needless to say, the 140-person company can’t afford.
The seemingly imminent death of Grooveshark is no small loss. Last year, Grooveshark was named one ofTime’s 50 Best Websites of the Year and its subscriber base has grown steadily since its inception. With over 30 million users per month streaming over a billion songs, the sinking of the music fish is a substantial blow to the free music industry and raises the inevitable question: can a virtual jukebox survive?
Remember Napster? Grokster? Morpheus? LimeWire? The copyright complaints and rampant piracy associated with these providers doomed them. Now Grooveshark is caught up in the same old net.
Despite the perils of the digital music marketplace, there is certainly still a vibrant cohort of contestant-companies willing to try their hand. Pandora has been countered by sites like Spotify, Rdio and Mog, all of which have been received with some legal skepticism.
Unlike Grooveshark, companies like Rdio and Mog are subscription-based, which may help to ease some legal pressure. Kazaa, one of the largest file-sharing presences online, equipped itself to be a pay-to-play site, and still it became hugely controversial for its infringement on artist and producer rights. It seems that most of the internet-based media providers have faced their own share of legal troubles.
For now, it appears that Grooveshark may, like so many free music sites before it, sink to the wreckage-laden floor at the bottom of the digital abyss. Until a business-model can be developed that limits copyright infringements, prevents piracy and defends the legal integrity of provider sites, it will be difficult for any provider to successfully navigate the vast and treacherous sea of internet law, for that sea has yet to be explored.