Warner Music has led the way for the big record labels to combat any innovation: it tends to sue every new startup
that does anything remotely innovative with music, and as part of any "settlement" demands they either shut down or give a big equity stake to Warner Music. It's extortion by lawsuit -- and it's designed to prevent any sort of innovation. However, it looks like EMI is quickly following suit. Despite its new (non record industry) owners who declared that it was time for EMI to take a new approach
to the industry, and even hiring
some tech industry hotshots, the company just can't stop suing small innovative startups. It's sued MP3Tunes
for letting people store and listen to their own, legally purchased music. It's sued Hi5 and VideoEgg
for having user-uploaded videos that include music -- despite the DMCA's safe harbors that remove liability from them.
Even worse, however, is EMI's habit of trying to drag other parties into the lawsuit. For example, in the MP3Tunes lawsuit, beyond suing just the company, EMI sued founder Michael Robertson personally
. The latest case is another example of that. EMI has sued both Seeqpod and Favtape
. EMI is a bit behind Warner Music on this one. Warner sued Seeqpod
last year. Favtape is similar to a number of other rather useful online services for creating playlists. It actually uses Seeqpod as its main search engine. Seeqpod is merely a search engine for music, looking across a variety of public sources for music. It doesn't host any of its own music, and has no way of knowing whether or not the music it finds is authorized or not. It's quite difficult to see how Seeqpod is doing anything illegal at all, and since Favtape is simply built on top of that, using Seeqpod's APIs, it's even less obvious how Favtape is doing anything wrong. In fact, this raises some very troubling legal issues: if you use someone's APIs, are you legally liable for the actions of the company powering the underlying service? That would create a massive chilling effect on innovation if true.
But, of course, EMI is making the situation even worse. Rather than just suing the companies, it's also suing investors and the founders personally
. This isn't just highly unusual, it's a clear attempt to pressure these companies into settling, as no matter how legitimate your stance is, it's quite a scary thing to be sued personally, and potentially have personal assets at risk. Suing the founders personally is legal bullying. It's a clear abuse of the legal system to try to force a settlement, rather than an actual attempt to raise a legal issue.
Suing the investors is equally as ridiculous -- and is a clear attempt to try to get those investors to push the companies to settle. This tactic has been used in the past a few times by the big record labels, initially with Universal Music's attempt to sue Napster's investors
. Most recently, Universal Music tried to do the same thing with Veoh, but a court slapped them down
. Hopefully, the investors in question will point this ruling out to the court in question in asking for a quick dismissal. Furthermore, hopefully a judge will sanction EMI for abusing the legal process to bully these companies and individuals.