A federal court today (August 22) rendered a split decision of sorts in the closely-followed lawsuit against music locker MP3Tunes by EMI Music Group.
The judge ruled in favor of EMI's request for a summary judgment on certain points, most particularly: holding MP3Tunes liable for not removing unauthorized music from the digital locker service at the label's request. It also found the company's founder, Michael Robertson, directly responsible for personally linking to music in MP3Tunes from sites that hosted them without permission.
However the court also granted MP3Tunes' request for summary judgment that the service itself was protected under the safe harbor provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act so long as it removes tracks that rights holders claim violate their copyrights.
Both parties had requested summary judgment on other points-such as EMI's claim that MP3Tunes was infringing on its cover art, and MP3Tunes claim that EMI was engaged in unfair competition-but those motions were denied.
The impact of this ruling is debatable. Robertson has contended all along that if MP3Tunes is protected by the DMCA safe harbor clause, then no other digital music locker (such as Apple's iCloud or Amazon's Cloud Drive) would need to strike licensing deals with record labels for letting users store and access music from their servers.
However that's not exactly what EMI was suing over. While MP3Tunes does let users store their own music files in the digital locker, it also lets them store and manage links to streaming music found online…much of it from unauthorized sources. The judges ruling means that MP3Tunes would just need to remove the offending sources when requested, rather than hold the company liable the instant such sources became available. MPTunes problem was that it didn't remove the songs when requested to do so.
So in that sense, the ruling serves to further strengthen the DMCA safe harbor clause, something the music industry has been searching for a weakness in through multiple lawsuits against multiple streaming music services, including Veoh, Grooveshark and MP3Tunes.
So far, no label has sued a digital music locker service for simply letting users store their own music in an online server, such as what mSpot and Amazon do. Claiming this lawsuit sets a precedent that precludes such lawsuits would be inaccurate. It just means that such services are not required to monitor their lockers to determine which tracks are pirated and which aren't.
Updated: Both EMI and MP3Tunes Michael Robertson have issued statements on the ruling.
"We are pleased that MP3tunes and Michael Robertson have been held liable for infringing hundreds of sound recordings and musical compositions through their Sideload and MP3tunes websites. The Court's decision confirms that businesses cannot simply pay lip service to the law while undermining the rights of the musicians, artists and writers that create popular music. The decision also proves that company executives that personally contribute to and commit copyright infringement will be held accountable for their actions.
At the same time, we're disappointed that the Court found that MP3tunes was entitled to a safe harbor for some of its conduct under the DMCA. EMI believes that companies like MP3tunes, which knowingly build a business based on stolen music, should not be entitled to any DMCA safe harbor defense, and we're evaluating our options to seek review of those portions of the decision. We will continue to fight - in this case and in the future - for the rights of our artists and writers, and to ensure that they are always properly compensated every time their music is used in a commercial setting."
The Judge found "MP3tunes did not promote infringement" which is important to note. We've always operated our music service in a responsible manner and because of that the Judge determined that MP3tunes has protection under the DMCA as a service provider for both MP3tunes and Sideload.com which is a music search engine. What started out as a case about 33,000 works has been reduced by about 99%. Few companies have been able to stand up to the record labels attacks and get rulings from the court on key issues relevant to the future of the internet music and this 29 page ruling will set new precedent if it remains standing... Overall it was a enormous victory for MP3tunes and digital music compatriots like Amazon, Google, and Grooveshark. It wasn't a complete victory and it is not a final ruling because there are outstanding issues and both sides can appeal, but we're prepared to continue battling for the last 1%.