Record Labels Continue To Go After Music Startups

from the onwards-and-downwards dept

On Friday, we wrote about how the likelihood of eventual lawsuits created a chilling effect that shut down Mixwit, a useful online mixtape service provider. It seemed quite unlikely that Mixwit was violating copyrights, as it didn't host any music nor make the music that people played through available for download. However, that won't stop the record labels who seem to believe that any service that lets you play music must first receive the big record labels' blessing (and, in case you were wondering, that blessing costs a lot of money, and often equity).

Earlier this year they sued one such startup, called Project Playlist. Similar to Mixwit, Project Playlist doesn't host any music. It just sends a search query to a variety of search engines, finds results of publicly available music via those search engines and then aggregates the results into a playlist. It then allows you to create widgets with that playlist. All of this should be perfectly legal. Project Playlist simply has no way of knowing whether the music found via various search engines is legal or not. It's not doing any of the hosting. It's not allowing downloading for infringement purposes. It's difficult to see what possible complaint the record labels have with it, other than the simple fact that it's a good innovation that people like, and no one's paying the big record labels for it.

Of course, lawsuits take some time, and apparently (unlike some other startups) Project Playlist hasn't simply folded when the lawsuits showed up. The company, which has raised a significant amount of money and has brought on experienced internet execs seems to be fighting back. So what did the record labels do? Well, they went after third parties, such as MySpace and Facebook who host the widget from Project Playlist. This is even more untenable than the lawsuit against Project Playlist. MySpace and Facebook are even further away from any liability, because as open application platforms, they don't even know much of what their applications do, let alone that one may be going to search engines, finding publicly available songs, putting them into a playlist and letting people stream them.

But, why should anything like that stop the record labels? So, late last week, MySpace gave in and locked out Project Playlist widgets while Facebook seems willing to push back on behalf of users. MySpace's move really isn't that surprising, since MySpace launched its MySpace Music offering to terrible reviews and (from the buzz we've heard from insiders) much less use than projected. MySpace Music competes directly with Project Playlist, so the company must be thrilled about an excuse to shut down access to Project Playlist, even though the end result might just drive users away, and make app developers that much more cautious about betting on MySpace as a platform.

Apparently, record label folks are claiming that Facebook's refusal to block Project Playlist is "irresponsible," which is laughable coming from the recording industry -- perhaps the most irresponsible and short-sighted industry around. Facebook knows that it has the law on its side, and at best the recording industry can launch a wasteful, money-sucking lawsuit against it, which will only drive music fans further away from the recording industry. If the record labels want to talk "irresponsible" they should look at themselves in the mirror first.

Update: Interesting timing here. Apparently Sony BMG has worked out a deal with Project Playlist. While News.com designates this as "good news," I'm not so sure. Yes, it's probably good news from the standpoint of avoiding a lawsuit, but it's bad news from the standpoint that Project Playlist was pressured into signing a deal that legally it almost certainly does not need. It's now set a precedent that rather than stand up for its rights, if you threaten enough, the company will fork over money (and potentially equity). Once again, this just reinforces the record labels' incorrect position that no one should be allowed to innovate in the music space without paying a toll to the big record labels.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Dec 2008 @ 10:26am

    Let me see if I got the gist of this?

    Facebook = Good | Myspace = Bad?

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

  • icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 22 Dec 2008 @ 11:21am

    Feh.

    I've been saying for a while now that when things have to go to court, the smaller guy has already lost. It's not justice, it's a bully club. The deck is insanely stacked.

    Myspace has another problem: They sign you off at every opportunity. I have an account, but rarely use it anymore because I know I'm going to have to go through the hassle of signing in, and hey! Techdirt might have something interesting I can get to quickly...

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Dec 2008 @ 11:44am

    Fuck the record labels and the asshats over at the RIAA

    The more they pull off this shit, the more I want to download. Keep it up !

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

  • identicon
    jonnyq, 22 Dec 2008 @ 11:52am

    Mixwit, a useful online mixtape service provider. It seemed quite unlikely that Mixwit was violating copyrights, as it didn't host any music nor make the music that people played through available for download. However, that won't stop the record labels who seem to believe that any service that lets you play music must first receive the big record labels' blessing

    So this was a service that streamed music on demand?

    First off, streaming = downloading = copying. And you know that, so it's odd that you're acting like you don't know what the problem is.

    Other than that, it would be similar to online radio which is already supposed to abide by copyright restrictions.

    I'm sure I agree with you in spirit on the rest of your opinion here, but unless I'm misreading, it sounds like you're saying that streaming and copying are two different things.

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

    • icon
      duane (profile), 22 Dec 2008 @ 12:40pm

      Re:

      Actually streaming might technically equal downloading, but it by no means automatically equals copying. That's what they want you to think, 'cause that makes us all criminals and so probably terrorists and so they can do what they want to us.

      Some of us are not. For example, I've been "streaming" Pandora all day. I have not "copied" a single thing. Therefore I am not a criminal and therefore not a terrorist.

      However, what our man is saying is that this company is just streaming stuff that is available on-line for free. It isn't necessarily an online radio station, and if I were in their shoes I would fight like hell to keep from being labeled as such. Online radio stations are getting screwed seven ways from Sunday.

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

      • icon
        Killer_Tofu (profile), 22 Dec 2008 @ 1:09pm

        Re: Re:

        I have half a mind to start taking all my free time and put it into making a program / site like this.
        Then I will just wait for them to come to bully me.
        They I will pull a Monster Golf and start taking donations from everywhere to be the one company that refuses to back down. You know, like Google did before they got to where they are now. I can promise I will and would never bow down to these asshats. Indie music, RIAA free, for the win!

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

      • icon
        ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 22 Dec 2008 @ 4:43pm

        Re: Re:

        "Actually streaming might technically equal downloading, but it by no means automatically equals copying. "

        Er, what? Any computer->computer interaction involves copying. That's how they interact.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 22 Dec 2008 @ 8:25pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          No, actually something is not copied until the file is reconstructed 'in whole' not 'in part'. The effective difference for streaming is that the entire file is not kept -- you do not fully buffer any one entire 'piece of work' at once. If you do, then you've copied it even if its immediately deleted after you watch it. If you don't fully copy it, the content was streamed and not copied.

          Having pieces of a file != having a file.

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

    • identicon
      lordmorgul, 22 Dec 2008 @ 5:20pm

      Re:

      "streaming and copying are two different things."

      They are different here. The sites in question do not stream or copy the music at all... they point you to it, and the flash player running on YOUR browser streams the music from THE HOST, not the playlist bookmarking service. If any infringement is taking place, it is on behalf of the site hosting the music file, by having 'made available' the copyrighted content.

      Myspace caved in, while they had good legal standing to refute the RIAA's claims. I think Mike hits the nail squarely on the head with why: Myspace Music just released (and it sucks, so competition is bad).

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

    • icon
      Mike (profile), 22 Dec 2008 @ 5:51pm

      Re:

      First off, streaming = downloading = copying. And you know that, so it's odd that you're acting like you don't know what the problem is.

      Not quite. Yes, streaming does create a temporary copy, but there are legal questions as to whether or not that counts as a copy in the legal sense. The recent Cablevision ruling suggests it is NOT a copy.

      But, more to the point, the legal issue is whether or not the site itself is making the copy or if the user is able to download a permanent copy. Neither is true in this case, so it's difficult to see the legal issue.

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

    • identicon
      mike allen, 22 Dec 2008 @ 11:42pm

      Re:

      First off, streaming = downloading = copying. And you know that, so it's odd that you're acting like you don't know what the problem is.Wrong wrong wrong
      that then is the same as saying their should be no time shift of radio/ TV shows streaming is not copying nor downloading it has to be done in real time. Bitrates are usually quite low much inferior quality.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Dec 2008 @ 12:04pm

    Fuq them Nazi bastards.. If you ever buy anything they put out then you are part of the problem.. Not the solution.. Download, download, download! I'd rather sit in silence than to give them one cent of my money!

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

  • identicon
    You never know, 22 Dec 2008 @ 12:04pm

    As long as there is money to be made, even if it's by strong armiing he public, the music mongers will be there to do it.

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

  • identicon
    Carla from Cheers, 22 Dec 2008 @ 1:42pm

    They just don't get it. If the RIAA and their hired goons want to keep calling me a criminal, eventually I'll live up to that promise. Every single new attack launched by the RIAA on behalf of the so-called music labels pushes me one step closer to actually downloading Frostwire and stealing music.

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

  • identicon
    mako, 22 Dec 2008 @ 2:59pm

    Awesome; i've never heard of Project Playlist but am going to add the app to my facebook account tonight!

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

  • identicon
    nasch, 22 Dec 2008 @ 3:02pm

    Terms of the deal

    Is there some other source for info on this deal, or are you just assuming Project Playlist is giving BMG a bunch of money?

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

  • identicon
    gene_cavanaugh, 23 Dec 2008 @ 2:10pm

    Lawsuits by the entertainment industry

    When the entertainment industry cannot get at the main target, and goes after second level people, why don't the second level people simply interplead the top level? I am an attorney, and I assure you that if the entertainment industry tried to get to me for something that someone else was doing, I would interplead and opt out.
    I am seriously missing something here - is it possible that there is something happening behind the scenes?

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


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