Grooveshark Tries To Force Digital Music News To Unveil Commenter, Ignoring First Amendment

from the unfortunate dept

We've covered parts of the various lawsuits against Grooveshark by the recording industry. I have no idea how those lawsuits are going to turn out, but a bit of a sideshow in one is touching on issues that are extremely important around here: the right to protect anonymous commenters, and shield laws protecting journalistic sources. Last fall, in the latest effort by Universal Music against Grooveshark, the company quoted an anonymous comment from a blog post on the popular music industry blog, Digital Music News. The comment claimed to be from an employee at Grooveshark, and reads (in part):
I work for Grooveshark. Here is some information from the trenches:

We are assigned a predetermined ammount of weekly uploads to the system and get a small extra bonus if we manage to go above that (not easy).The assignments are assumed as direct orders from the top to the bottom, we don't just volunteer to "enhance" the Grooveshark database.

All search results are monitored and when something is tagged as "not available", it get's queued up to our lists for upload. You have to visualize the database in two general sections: "known" stuff and "undiscovered/indie/underground". The "known" stuff is taken care internally by uploads. Only for the "undiscovered" stuff are the users involved as explained in some posts above. Practically speaking, there is not much need for users to upload a major label album since we already take care of this on a daily basis.
To be honest, when I saw the original filing mentioning this comment, I was pretty surprised that Universal would use it in the lawsuit. After all, it's an anonymous comment on a blog. It's pure hearsay, without any actual evidence that the commenter actually works at Grooveshark. It's completely useless as evidence.

Of course, you might think that Universal Music would then issue a subpoena to discover who the commenter was. But... instead Grooveshark issued a subpoena (pdf and embedded below) seeking to identify the commenter. This is also strange. If UMG was able to identify the individual, then Grooveshark would find out that info. But if (as appears to be the case so far) UMG does nothing, the claims by this individual are useless in the lawsuit anyway.

Either way, Paul Resnikoff from Digital Music News worried about the subpoena, as DMN has a policy of not revealing its anonymous commenters (and often using them as sources). So, he decided to push back, noting a few key points. Public Citizen's Paul Levy recently agreed to represent Resnikoff in this matter and sent a letter to Grooveshark's parent company (embedded below) detailing why Grooveshark should stop barking up this particular tree. Beyond the First Amendment issues, the right of a journalist to protect sources, and the uselessness of the original comment in the first place, there's also the simple fact that DMN doesn't retain comment logs for very long, and has no useful information in response to the subpoena anyway.

That letter also highlights that Grooveshark is also interested in a much more recent comment on a blog post about Grooveshark's subpoena, in which a commenter (in a rather difficult to read manner) spins another conspiracy theory, suggesting that the original comment was a setup against Grooveshark by supporters of the lawsuit. To be honest, this comment seems about as credible as the original comment that kicked this off.

Whatever you might think of the Grooveshark lawsuit, this action by Grooveshark's lawyers seems like a mistake and overkill. Not only is it unlikely to turn up anything useful, going on a fishing expedition against anonymous commenters on a blog opens up a huge host of problems around First Amendment issues, which it appears Grooveshark either failed to consider, or doesn't much care about. That seems like a mistake.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 3:03pm

    No comment.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    icon
    :Lobo Santo (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 3:07pm

    Re: Oh really?

    This statement is false.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Pepperpot 1, May 1st, 2012 @ 3:14pm

    Burma!

    Sorry, I pannicked.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 3:16pm

    If that original comment is even remotely true I can't imagine UMG couldn't find evidence of it in discovery. My only guess is grooveshark is pretty sure it was an industry insider purposely making them look bad. I bet money on a highschooler in a tin hat though.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 3:17pm

    How is this a first amendment issue?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 3:18pm

    Re:

    Is that a serious question?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    icon
    A Guy (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 3:22pm

    Re:

    We have a right to anonymous speech. The post didn't seem to cross any lines that would make it unprotected to me.

    https://www.eff.org/issues/anonymity

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Mister Executive, May 1st, 2012 @ 3:30pm

    I work in the entertainment industry and it is actually a disaster. We just keep making up numbers, hoping that our BSing will work, but darn you people. Stop debunking our lies.

    Please consider accepting everything we say in the future. Otherwise, we won't be able to afford gold leaf toilet paper next year. :(

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 4:21pm

    Oh no, if I post here, angry people might sue uninvolved parties just to get my information!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    icon
    The Infamous Joe (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 4:47pm

    Skinning cats

    UMG doesn't have to win a trial, they just have to scare away Grooveshark's customers. The info doesn't have to hold up in a court, it only has to scare away enough customers to cause GS to fail. In this light, it would behoove GS to show this comment as fake, as soon as possible.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 5:53pm

    If Grooveshark could show that the comment was posted by someone working for the MPAA or UMG, it would be raise serious questions about the entire lawsuit.
    While one does need to tread lightly around the first amendment, being able to abuse the protections to create fanciful lawsuits to gain better terms with Grooveshark (give us what we want or we bankrupt you in court) is wrong.

    It is a fine line to be sure, but with UMG using it to support their position it seems like an attempt to sink the case before it gains any more traction.

    As we can see from the MegaUpload case, you have tons of people claiming they had to have been involved in the Limburgh baby kidnapping before the adversarial process begins. UMG has an endless well of cash to just try and crush companies they don't like, that might only be guilty of UMG not liking them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    icon
    The Groove Tiger (profile), May 1st, 2012 @ 8:08pm

    Re: Re: Oh really?

    Don't read this.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 8:32pm

    please show me where in the First amendment you have the right to anonymous speech??

    I will wait, while you figure out how to spin this to your side, oh in case you dont know it

    Amendment I
    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 9:11pm

    Re:

    Man, if you can't find it in there you should work on your reading comprehension.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2012 @ 10:21pm

    Re:

    As A Guy above posted, https://www.eff.org/issues/anonymity. The SCOTUS has ruled that the First Amendment protects anonymous speech. Care to try, again?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    icon
    G Thompson (profile), May 2nd, 2012 @ 12:01am

    This statement by the Anonymous commentator is absolutely hearsay for UMG to use it and they would know that. As someone else stated above the most likely reason they have even raised it is for public opinion against GrooveShark to damage their reputation. (Unethical yes, wrongful?.. only if it can be proven)

    This brings us into the realms of Defamation and the actual Anonymous comment is AFAIK on its face defamatory per se since it is written in such a way to remove hyperbole and opinion and is stated as known fact by an alleged insider.

    For Grooveshark not to go after who this is would be worrying, they have done exactly the right thing to protect their interests and business reputation.

    Shield laws would not come into this since DMN have not used it as part of any reporting until now. And Shield laws only protect the reporter, they don't protect commentators anonymous or otherwise from responsibility.

    There are First Amendment problems (and others) I would suspect with the second comment which should be a separate issue only after the retrieval of identifiers from first comment has been given.

    DMN are not liable here at all, though the original writer of the comment specifically is.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    G Thompson (profile), May 2nd, 2012 @ 12:05am

    Re: Re:

    Absolutely, as long as that speech is on its face legal and not harmful, and that's where the anon comment comes unstuck as long as Grooveshark can prove on balance harm.. ie: defamation per se. and as I state below, I think they have an extremely good case

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), May 2nd, 2012 @ 12:55am

    Re:

    This statement by the Anonymous commentator is absolutely hearsay for UMG to use it and they would know that. As someone else stated above the most likely reason they have even raised it is for public opinion against GrooveShark to damage their reputation. (Unethical yes, wrongful?.. only if it can be proven)

    This brings us into the realms of Defamation and the actual Anonymous comment is AFAIK on its face defamatory per se since it is written in such a way to remove hyperbole and opinion and is stated as known fact by an alleged insider.


    Then they should file a defamation lawsuit first. They haven't.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), May 2nd, 2012 @ 12:58am

    Re:

    please show me where in the First amendment you have the right to anonymous speech??


    "Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse. Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical minority views . . . Anonymity is a shield from the tyranny of the majority. . . . It thus exemplifies the purpose behind the Bill of Rights and of the First Amendment in particular: to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society." -- US Supreme Court

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2012 @ 1:05am

    Re:

    Wow, your gleeful ignorance is kind of just...sad.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    G Thompson (profile), May 2nd, 2012 @ 1:40am

    Re: Re:

    Which is why I think you're correct when you state it's overkill and mistake. There are easier ways to get what they want, and proving that this is defamatory is an easier route.

    Well unless it is true, and they are trying to find someone to punish. Personally I think UMG is being highly unethical here and should be sanctioned for it, The lawyers that is.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    icon
    The eejit (profile), May 2nd, 2012 @ 3:37am

    Re: Re: Oh really?

    This statement may be meta.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    hegemon13, May 2nd, 2012 @ 7:38am

    Re: Re:

    Unless it's false. Which makes it libel. Yes, if the post can be used in a lawsuit against Grooveshark, it qualifies as libel.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2012 @ 2:32pm

    Re: Re:

    How can it not be?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Speech is protected (for now)., May 2nd, 2012 @ 2:39pm

    Re:

    Humorous speech is protected.
    Insane speech is protected.
    Insincere speech is protected.
    Ridiculous speech is protected.
    Dishonest speech is protected.
    Hurtful speech is protected.
    Slurred speech is protected.
    Explanitory speech is protected.
    Anonymous speech is protected.

    See the common thread running though all of those? I can write a million more of them if you still don't get it (which I doubt you will because you morally bankrupt and willfully obtuse).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This