Home Is a Social Redesign Enough to Save Grooveshark?

Is a Social Redesign Enough to Save Grooveshark?

Music streaming service Grooveshark recently launched a visual refresh for its website, giving it a more social focus. Much like other freemium music services such as Rdio and Spotify, the new Grooveshark includes a news feed of recent activity and the ability to comment on other user’s listening activity.

The update seems like a logical next step, given the social features already baked into competing services, not to mention the the deep Facebook integration enjoyed by Spotify, MOG and others. The new changes also aim to connect fans with artists and provide new revenue streams, the company told GigaOm recently. It’s a worthwhile refresh, but to remain viable, Grooveshark may have much bigger mountains to climb.

At first glance, Grooveshark appears to look and work very similarly to something like Spotify. A search for almost any artist, however, reveals what’s different. For example, typing “Radiohead” into Rdio or Spotify will bring up the band’s major releases, neatly packaged as digital replicas of they way they were originally brought to market. On Grooveshark, you’ll find rare B-sides, bootlegged concerts and fan-made remixes.

Whereas Spotify waited several months to launch in the United States in in order to secure the proper licensing deals with major labels, Groovehsark launched in 2007 and has only one formal agreement in place with a major label. Instead, Grooveshark’s approach to copyright and licensing looks more like YouTube’s did in its early days: Let people upload what they want and deal with the DMCA take-down requests later.

By contrast, Spotify will let you merge your local music files with their massive, streamable library, but crucially, it stops short of letting you upload your own stuff and share it with others. In short, it doesn’t pull a Napster.

As it turns out, this feature makes Grooveshark a little too Napster-esque in the eyes of some record label executives. Last year, Universal Music filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Grooveshark. Shortly thereafter, its app was pulled from the iTunes App Store and the service has not been available on iOS since. That’s a major competitive disadvantage for any music streaming service, given Apple’s marketshare in both smartphones and tablets, not to mention the iPod. The service even ran afoul of the less restrictive Android Marketplace, from which it was removed in April.

Grooveshark’s leadership has repeatedly insisted that the service operates within the parameters of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and related copyright laws. Whether the courts agree is something that remains to be seen, but hopefully for users of the service, the (albeit limited) Napster comparison doesn’t follow Grooveshark much further.

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