Warner Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment have joined Universal Music Group's lawsuit against online music service Grooveshark. An amended complaint with the participation of the two additional major music groups was filed Thursday in a US District Court's Southern District of New York. The news was first reported Wednesday evening by the New York Times.
Althrough Grooveshark has secured licensing deals with one major and numerous independent labels and artists, Universal, Sony and Warner have never licensed their catalogs to Grooveshark. EMI's December 2009 deal with Grooveshark ended a copyright infringement lawsuit against the music service. In August 2010 independent rights group Merlin also signed a licensing agreement with Grooveshark that settled a copyright dispute.
Without licenses, Grooveshark operates on user-generated content. But the complaint alleges the company's executives are personally behind violations of the DMCA's "safe harbor" provisions. Digital service providers can enjoy a "safe harbor" from copyright infringement claims if they have no first-hand knowledge of infringement and take the necessary steps to remove infringing content when notified by the copyright holders.
One exhibit included in the claim is a post at Digital Music News that included an email thread between musician Robert Fripp, his team and Grooveshark. The correspondence regarded Fripp's request for the removal of his material from the site and those songs' quick reappearance. Universal was drawn to an anonymous comment in that blog post purported to be from a Grooveshark employee that described how employees were tasked with uploading songs to the service. Such first-hand knowledge of infringement would constitute an exception to the "safe harbor" provision, but the complaint does not verify the identity of the commenter.
Other exhibits reveal internal emails from Escape Media Group director Sina Simantob that describe a strategy of building a large user base before cutting deals with some rights owners. "We bet the company on the fact that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission," he wrote to one venture capital partner.
Grooveshark has dismissed Universal claims and interpretations of those internal emails. "Universal's claims rest almost entirely on an anonymous, blatantly false internet blog comment and Universal's gross mischaracterization of information that Grooveshark itself provided to Universal," General Counsel Marshall Custer said in a statement after Universal originally filed the complaint.