Home Federal Judge Finds Cloud Music Lockers Do Not Violate Copyrights

Federal Judge Finds Cloud Music Lockers Do Not Violate Copyrights

A federal judge in New York ruled today in the defendant’s favor on a copyright infringement case brought EMI and 14 record companies against cloud music locker service MP3tunes. Judge William H. Pauley III found that cloud-based music lockers are, for the most part, legally in the clear. The judge found that “MP3tunes did not promote infringement” by offering an open cloud storage service for music, meaning that it, as well as big-name services like Google Music and Amazon Cloud Drive, are on the right side of the law.

The record companies claimed that services like these duplicate files in ways that violate copyrights, that they don’t do enough to stop repeat infringers, and that playing back songs from a locker constitute a “public performance,” which would require a license for the material. The judge rejected all these claims, finding that MP3tunes is protected as a service provider under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The plaintiffs also argued that works recorded prior to 1972 were not protected by the DMCA, but the judge overturned this charge as well.

The record companies alleged that MP3tunes was responsible for 33,000 copyright violations, but Judge Pauley’s ruling reduced that number by 99% to only 350 works. The violations are specific, involving MP3Tunes’ technical failure to distinguish authorized copies of some songs, given away during “viral” marketing campaigns, and unauthorized copies that were still protected. The ruling found that these arrangements “contributed to the unauthorized use of EMI’s copyrighted works,” though MP3tunes founder/CEO and main defendant Michael Robertson says MP3tunes is “prepared to continue battling for the last 1%” of works cited in the case.

Overall, this is a resounding victory for cloud locker services and their users, though, as Robertson says, “it was not a complete victory[, and it was] not a final ruling,” because some elements can still be appealed. EMI’s case relied on several misconstructions of the nature of these services, and the judge turned those aside. EMI claimed that these cloud services host a “master copy” of a file within their service, so that users who upload the same song are just playing one digital copy hosted by the service. Playing that file would constitute a “public performance” that would require a license. But in reality, cloud locker services store individual copies of a user’s own music, so they are merely service providers, and they can’t be held accountable for copyright violations.

A victory for consumer choice

When it comes to Web-based music services, the alternative to cloud storage is a subscription-based streaming model, many of which have gained in popularity this year. These services are dependent on licenses for the material, though, so if they don’t have the music a user is looking for, that user has to listen to it elsewhere. Alternatively, cloud lockers agnostically host whatever music a user wants to upload, and both Google and Amazon offer services like these, as does MP3tunes, the defendant in this case. Though record labels have accused these services of promoting piracy, today’s ruling finds that they aren’t responsible for the content uploaded by their users, and that’s a victory for consumer choice.

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