Growing YouTube alternative Vimeo is looking to attract more video creators to its platform with the addition of some new features – a cloud-based enhancement tool and new soundtrack options.
The Enhancer will allow video publishers to make changes to their content without having to edit them on a desktop and then re-upload them onto the site. In other words, creators can edit from Vimeo’s website, which includes being able to instantly add music to their videos, update audio levels and control a song’s starting and ending point.
Through a collaboration with music partner SmartSound, Vimeo has also added almost 4,000 new soundtrack options on top of the 50,000 titles that were already available through its soundtrack tool. These new options are supposed to make way for improved flexibility.
At the price of $1.99 per song for a personal license, or $19.99 for a commercial license, users will be able to create custom soundtracks for their videos using SmartSound songs. For greater customization, users will be able to control the length, arrangement and instrument mix of the tracks.
NEWS ANALYSIS: Alongside Apple stating that iBooks 2 and textbooks on the iPad would reinvent the textbook as we know it, the iPad-maker announced Thursday that it would also attempt to reinvent book-making by way of an app called iBooks Author.
The Apple-developed app, available as a free download from the Mac App Store, (ideally) makes it easy to make books for the iPad. But together, iBooks 2 and iBooks Author are moves to capture the future of education and self-publishing, and to continue to build on the success Apple had under the late Steve Jobs.
If you've ever used Apple's Keynote or Pages (or Microsoft's PowerPoint or Word) apps, then you should be able to hit the ground running in iBooks Author. There are templates for different types of book layouts, and adding the interactive 3-D models, photos, videos and diagrams that Apple demoed iBooks 2 textbooks on Thursday is as easy as clicking and dragging a built-in widget — provided you've already produced the video, photos, diagrams and models you want to use.
Want to see what your book looks like before you publish it to iBooks? Just connect your Mac to an iPad by way of a USB cable and you can preview the book on the tablet.
The aim of the iBooks Author app is to make it easy to get these impressive multimedia elements, as well as questionnaires and other educational materials, into a page of text and published as a book on the iPad as easy as possible — whether you're a self-publisher looking to write your first book, a teacher whipping up something quick for a special class, or a publishing powerhouse like the textbook trifecta of McGraw-Hill, Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Before his death, Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson that he believed Apple could disrupt the $8-billion-a-year textbook industry. Jobs said in Isaacson's book, titled simply "Steve Jobs," that the iPad was the tool to make transformation in the textbook business a reality.
According to the book, Jobs' idea "was to hire great textbook writers to create digital versions, and make them a feature of the iPad. In addition, he held meetings with the major publishers, such as Pearson Education, about partnering with Apple."
Jobs told Isaacson "the process by which states certify textbooks is corrupt … but if we can make the textbooks free, and they come with the iPad, then they don't have to be certified. The crappy economy at the state level will last for a decade, and we can give them an opportunity to circumvent that whole process and save money."
In announcing the iBooks 2 and iBooks Author products, Apple is beginning to bring a piece of Jobs' long-term vision to fruition. The company also noted Thursday that there are currently about 1.5 million iPads being used in schools and more than 20,000 education apps sitting in its iOS App Store.
But make no mistake, iBooks 2 and iBooks Author aren't just about textbooks. The two new apps are working together to entice students, teachers, educational institutions to embrace and buy the iPad in bigger numbers than they already have.
On Thursday, in announcing the new products, Apple made no mention of new discounts on iPads for students or schools — though Apple has offered such discounts in the past on Macs and even created special versions of the iMac for schools. Apple even built the now-defunct eMac line specifically to sell to schools.
Apple wants us to ditch the paperback and hardcover textbooks in favor of an iPad and digital downloads, that much is obvious. But the company also wants the iPad and Macs to become to go-to devices for educational institutions and publishing houses.
Although Apple's iTunes is the world's most popular online music storefront, Amazon is the world's largest seller of e-books. By adding a level of interactivity to books that Amazon and others simply can't match, and by making it easier to publish a book and sell it in the iBooks app directly from iBooks Author, Apple has made a move to challenge Amazon and its Kindle e-reader and Kindle Touch tablet as the preferred platform for self-publishers and digital textbooks.
In a statement announcing iBooks 2 and iBooks Author, Apple said as much (without naming Amazon and other e-book rivals such as Google and Barnes & Noble).
"iBooks Author is also available today as a free download from the Mac App Store and lets anyone with a Mac create stunning iBooks textbooks, cookbooks, history books, picture books and more, and publish them to Apple's iBookstore," Apple said.
The apps are also a challenge to Adobe, a company Apple has been known to partner with and feud with from time to time. Adobe's Creative Suite, Digital Publishing Suite and Touch Apps, available on both Windows PCs and Macs, are some of the most popular tools used by publishing houses and self-publishers looking to create a book, whether an e-book or a book before it heads to print.
Though capable of producing many different types of content for a broader range of devices, Adobe's software can cost thousands of dollars, while Apple's iBooks Author app is free.
Apple on Thursday also released an iTunes U app, which allows teachers from kindergarten to the university level to stream video of their lectures and post class notes, handouts, reading lists, etc., all within the app.
Previously, iTunes U was a podcasting service for college professors who wanted to put up video or audio of their lectures. Now it is one more reason for a teacher to consider an iPad and a Mac as tools to reach students at any grade level. And like iBooks Author, the app is free.
In my opinion, Apple is one of the best companies out there at providing lower-cost products that pull consumers into an ecosystem of apps and gadgets. It's one of the reason the company has so many cult-like followers.
For many Apple fans, their first purchase was an iPod or iPhone. With those purchases comes buying apps, music, movies and TV shows from iTunes. And for many, later comes a MacBook or an iMac computer. This strategy is repeating itself with iBooks 2 and iBooks Author.
First, get students and teachers to use more iPads in school by offering affordable and engaging digital textbooks. With iBook textbooks capped at a price of $14.99, I have to wonder whether or not textbooks will become shorter and more narrow, and thus students and teachers we'll have to buy more of them. Second, make it easy for anybody to produce their own iBooks (textbooks or otherwise) and then sell those books in the iBooks app, luring in aspiring authors. When those students, teachers and authors go to download music or a movie, set up a cloud storage service or buy a laptop, a phone, a new tablet — maybe someday a TV — what brand will be at the top of minds? Apple.
iBooks, iBooks Author and iTunes U, together are a move to fend off Google, Amazon, Adobe and other competitors in determining the future of education, publishing and book reading. Together, the launch of these apps is an attempt to not only maintain but also expand Apple's current success into the company's post-Jobs future.
Photo: Apple's iBook Author app on an iMac, and an iBook and an iPad. Credit: Apple
Beats Electronics and Monster Cable Products, two companies that together defined the current $1-billion headphone industry with the Beats by Dr. Dre line, are parting ways at the end of the year.
But before the two become competitors in a segment of consumer electronics that is just as much about fashion as it is technology, a wave of new Beats by Dr. Dre headphones and boom boxes (built by Monster) will hit store shelves.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, I caught up with Jimmy Iovine, Beats Electronics' chairman and CEO of Interscope Geffen A&M Records, to talk about what products the Beats brand had planned for 2012 (you can see our interview in the video above).
First up will be the new Mixr headphones, designed by Grammy-winning producer and DJ David Guetta. The Mixr is a lightweight and strong design — I twisted and bent the headband, and it returned to form and never felt week — that offers the bass-heavy sound Beats is known for. At $279, the Mixr is set to hit U.S. stores in early February in black and white. They're already available in Europe.
February will also see a wireless release of the Solo headphones, also priced at $279. And due in mid-September are the $349 Executive headphones, which bring a sleeker and more understated look with a leather headband and aluminum ear cups.
Iovine was also proud of the new BeatBox, a follow-up to the first-generation (and much less portable) BeatBox, which will sell at a price of $399. A release date hasn't yet been set for the new battery- or AC-powered BeatBox, which plays music from smartphones and MP3 players docked on the speaker setup.
Since launching in 2009, Beats has teamed with Justin Beiber, Lady Gaga and Sean "Diddy" Combs for artist-sponsored headphones. The Mixr is the only artist-specific set of headphones planned for 2012, Iovine said.
But this year we will see more HTC smartphones paired with Beats headphones as a result of HTC purchasing a $300-million stake in the audio company late last year, he said. And Beats speakers will be found not just in the Chrysler 300, as they were in 2011, but also in the Dodge Charger. And, as we saw at CES, Beats speakers are making their way into more HP laptops this year too.
After the Monster manufacturing deal expires at the end of the year, Beats plans to go out on its own, Iovine told my colleague Gerrick D. Kennedy on our sister blog Pop & Hiss. Despite reports to the contrary, Iovine said, the split was always the audio start-up's intention.
"It was always planned. It was always a five-year deal," Iovine said. "It was a manufacturing distribution deal. We were with Monster for headphones and speakers. It was always a plan to turn into a freestanding company."
Image: The Beats Executive headphones from Beats by Dr. Dre. Credit: Beats Electronics/Monster Cable Products
50 Cent’s branding empire already includes energy shots, cologne and books, but his latest products are all about the music.
The rapper was at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week to promote his new line of headphones: the wireless Sync by 50, the wired Street by 50 and the soon-to-be-released Street by 50 wired ear buds.
The audio products, he told The Times during an interview at the Las Vegas Convention Center, are “an extension of my passion for music.”
“I’ll spend 30 or 40 minutes when I’m really inspired and have an idea, and the song will be done. And then we’ll spend a week making sure it sounds right afterwards,” he said. ”Then to have it go out to the general public and them listen to it on things that don’t actually allow them to hear it with the same qualities –- not so cool. So I want to try to be a part of [how] they consume it the right way. And maybe they’ll feel like I’m as good as I think I am, when they hear it that way.”
Both headphones are already available in stores and online after a soft launch during the holiday season.
The $400 Sync by 50, which 50 Cent was wearing around his neck during our interview as “a fashion statement,” promises to give users “crystal-clear wireless sound” up to 50 feet away and the ability to sync as many as four pairs of headphones to a single audio source. The headphones are professionally tuned and feature 40-mm drivers, 16-bit lossless digital sound and on-board controls with bass boost, volume control and mute.
The Street by 50 headphones are priced at $300 and feature professional studio sound, enhanced bass, soft memory foam cushions, passive noise cancellation and a detachable cord.
The ear buds, expected to be launched later this year, have a professionally tuned 11-mm driver and an ergonomically designed Apple control mic with volume control and reinforced cables. The wires on the ear buds are flat, which 50 Cent said prevented tangling. They are expected to cost $130.
The products are made by 50 Cent’s SMS Audio; he created the company and is its chief executive. Down the line, he said, SMS Audio will expand its offerings to include home audio systems, professional audio equipment, speakers, iPod docks and DJ headsets.
“I love music,” he said. “Why would I not want to make the best possible way to hear it?”
The celebrity headphone market has taken off in recent years, led by the Beats by Dr. Dre line. Dr. Dre was in Las Vegas for CES, as were Ludacris and “Jersey Shore” star Snooki — both of them hyping headphones.
50 Cent signed autographs for fans Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at CES and said he was excited to check out the latest technology at the trade show.
“My girlfriend, in my office, she’s a massage chair. She doesn’t talk much, she just works,” he said. “And I’m interested to go see what the new version of that does.”
– Andrea Chang in Las Vegas
Photo: 50 Cent wears a pair of his Sync by 50 headphones at CES in Las Vegas. Credit: Andrea Chang / Los Angeles Times
LL Cool J wanted to make one thing clear at the Consumer Electronics Show this week: He’s got a new product, and it’s not a line of celebrity headphones.
Instead, the rapper-actor wanted to talk about the Boomdizzle Virtual Recording Studio, which he said eliminated the need for an artist and his or her team to be in the same place to record music. LL Cool J co-founded Boomdizzle, an online community for artists, in 2008.
“The problem was: I’m in L.A.; my producer or my engineer’s in New York. I want to go in the studio tonight, but I want to collaborate,” LL Cool J said at a press gathering at the Las Vegas Convention Center. “I don’t want to email you my track and then you email me back your bass line, then I email you back a vocal and then you email me back a drum and then we email back and forth and back and forth.”
The Virtual Recording Studio provides the digital production, mixing and sound tools for artists to create music, LL Cool J said. To demonstrate the technology, he recorded a song Tuesday in front of an audience at CES while his engineer was in New York.
The platform will be completely Web-based and feature a “simple, accessible user interface,” he said. Users will be able to upload tracks and see each other over a video chat feature. He noted that the Virtual Recording Studio was not just for professional musicians, but for casual users as well — such as friends who wanted to get together online and sing karaoke.
“I think that that basically revolutionizes the world of music,” he said. ”If LL Cool J was 16, 17 years old and I was just starting out, I think I would grow vampire teeth to sink my teeth into this product.”
When the software launches, LL Cool J said, part of it will be free, another part will be pay-as-you-go and yet another portion will be subscription based. “I want to make sure that as many people have access to it as possible, and I also want to make sure that it does well as a business.”
The initial launch of the technology will be by invitation only.
– Andrea Chang in Las Vegas
Photo: LL Cool J announces Boomdizzle’s Virtual Recording Studio at CES. Credit: Andrea Chang / Los Angeles Times
DJ really doesn't mean disc jockey these days; it's more apt to call them digital jockeys.
Pro equipment can get really pricey and take a few trips from the truck to set up.
But IK Multimedia has an app that may put the power of a pro DJ in your pocket.
At CES in Las Vegas, the company announced that it will soon release DJ Rig, an iPhone app that brings smooth transitions, scratching, sampling and beat matching to the party.
The app includes features found in other DJ apps such as access to the on-board iPhone music library and playlists, auto-sync technology, interactive waveform display and auto looping.
What makes IK Multimedia suggest this app may be a game-changer are features such as detection and adjustment for volume and cross-fading equalizing, a sync mode that detects beats per minute from external devices in real time and automatically syncs the tempo of internal decks to external decks. It has an on-the-fly sampler and live sampling capabilities.
And, if you want to go a little old school, the new DJ Rig app has a scratching engine that is supposed to emulate the behavior of real decks. The app also promises to include several output configurations, so you can adapt to different audio setups.
The regular version will cost about $10; there will be a scaled-down free version, expandable through in-app purchase. A universal iPad app is also in the works.
Among other coming-soon announcements for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad from the company out of CES: a mobile mixer (iRig Mix, $100), a live-performance stompbox guitar/bass interface (iRig Stomp, $60) and a compact voice-recording mic (iRig Mic Cast, $40).
– Michelle Maltais in Las Vegas
Photo: Professor Stephen Webber, background, watches students practice turntable techniques at Berklee College of Music in 2004. Credit: Adam Hunger / Associated Press
Got an Apple iPhone this Christmas? Well, you're doing pretty well for yourself. It may or may not be Santa Claus' smartphone of choice and you successfully avoided waiting in long lines as many Apple fanatics do once a year when a new iPhone launches.
But marketing and hype aside, the iPhone is one of the best smartphone lines on the market and each of the devices currently available — the 3GS, the 4 and the 4S — run iOS 5, the latest version of Apple's mobile operating system. With that in mind, here are five places to get started if you're a first time iPhone owner.
1. Photography apps: Apple's App Store (the only place you can get iPhone apps), with more than 140,000 apps available, is a major bragging right for the iPhone versus its competitors, but not all apps are created equal. However, no other smartphone platform can currently match the iPhone for slick apps that produce fun and artistic photos. The best place to start is likely Instagram, which combines a solid selection of filters to make photos look like they were shot on vintage film cameras and a social network of other users so you can see the world through other lenses. Hipstamatic is another popular choice, which takes the vintage filter approach to another level with the ability to mix and match digital lenses, flashes and film choices to create a more customized look than in Instagram. Another app, called SwankoLab, allows you to alter photos already taken using a simulated dark room.
2. Games: The iPhone is also arguably the best gaming smartphone out there and the choices here are plentiful. Angry Birds is one of the most popular games available on smartphones and is a good place to start. But other choices such as Robo Surf, Cut the Rope, Tiny Wings, Bumpy Road and Kosmo Spin are worth checking out too — each combining unique art styles, enchanting soundtracks and simple touch screen controls. For those looking for a bit more of a gaming challenge, the third-person shooter Minigore and puzzle game Scribblenauts impress. The sword fighting games Infiniti Blade and Infiniti Blade II show what the iPhone is capable of with detailed 3-D graphics and fast-paced action.
3. Music: Apple's iTunes allows for easy music buying, but there are plenty of other music related apps worth checking out as well. Shazam can listen to and then identify thousands of songs. Band of the Day is a great way to discover new music. Soundtracking is a unique social networking app that allows you to share what you're listening to with others, as well as check out what tunes they like. And if you're a Spotify Premium subscriber, the Spotify app is a must.
4. Built-in Twitter: If you're a big Twitter user, as I am, or even if you're new to Twitter, you're likely going to appreciate that the social network is baked into iOS 5. Checking out a website you care to share in the iPhone's Safari web browser? You can tweet that directly from Safari without having to go and open up a Twitter app. Same goes for photos, videos and locations in the maps app.
5. Ask a friend: As always, talking to a buddy can generate suggestions that may line up with your interests on just about anything — same goes here. Ask a friend who uses an iPhone what they like about the phone or available apps and you're bound to find something you may enjoy too.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: A newly purchased iPhone 4S smartphone outside an Apple Store in New York. Credit: Michael Nagle / Getty Images
If you're heading to New York any time soon, we suggest you pack a warm hat, and also download The Gaits, a new music app that provides a musical accompaniment to a walk along New York's High Line park with the help of four composers and the listener's footsteps.
The app uses the phone's accelerometer to turn each step into the twinkling metallic sounds of electric guitar chords, dulcimer notes, water splashes, car horns and applause. It also uses geolocating technology, so it knows where you are in the park, and when you've stopped for a break on a bench. When you do take a seat, the sounds generated by the app will change to indicate "you are resting now."
The Gaits was developed by four composers and produced by Friends of the High Line and Make Music New York, in association with MATA, a nonprofit that commissions new works from young composers.
In the description of the app on iTunes, the makers suggest you wear small portable speakers while you create and enjoy your personal High Line musical experience. Used this way, the creators suggest that iPhones "become instruments effortlessly played by strolling, sauntering, or sprinting down the High Line."
That's a nice idea, but also kind of weird. However, we'd totally be down to try this with headphones.
Sadly, this app can be used only if you are walking on the High Line, but we look forward to a day when digital composers score all other types of walking experiences. How cool would it be to have an app like this during a hike in the Grand Canyon, or a walk on the Venice boardwalk?
Video: Preview of The Gaits: a High Line Soundwalk, by Lainie Fefferman, Jascha Narveson, Cameron Britt and Daniel Iglesia. Produced by Friends of the High Line for Make Music Winter.Credit: YouTube.
Haven't gotten that holiday shopping wrapped up just yet? Amazon.com, the world's largest online retailer, has plenty of stuff to sell and on Thursday launched a Best of Digital store full of items it recommends.
As the name would suggest, the items for sale in Amazon's Best of Digital store aren't physical goods. The store, which is a section of Amazon's website, has for sale mp3 music files, not CDs; downloadable movies, not DVDs or Blu-ray discs. Apps, games, magazines, e-books (for Amazon's Kindle e-reader, of course) and software for home PCs are on the list as well.
Launching such a store after the start of Hanukkah and so close to Christmas might seem like odd timing, but "historically, Christmas Day is the largest day of digital sales on Amazon.com, followed by Dec. 26," Amazon said in a statement.
"Last year, from Christmas Eve through Dec. 30, Amazon customers purchased over three times more digital content, including Kindle books, magazines, movies, TV shows music, and digital games as compared to the weekly average for the year," the company said.
Not at all a coincidence, all the digital items (except for the PC software) for sale in the Best of Digital store can be read, watched, listened to, played and used on Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet.
"With the introduction of Kindle Fire this season, millions more customers will be shopping for new digital content," Craig Pape, Amazon's director of music, said in the statement. "This year we're making it easier and more convenient than ever to get all the content they want."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of Amazon's Best of Digital store. Credit: Amazon.com
Rhapsody, the longest-running subscription-music service, announced Thursday that it had finally crossed the 1 million subscriber threshold. Before you cue the cork-popping, bear in mind that Rhapsody launched almost exactly 10 years ago, so its growth isn't setting land-speed records. And three years ago, Rhapsody and rival Napster each reported having about 750,000 subscribers. The two companies are now combined, thanks to Rhapsody's purchase of the fast-declining Napster in October, but the total is far less than the sum of their erstwhile parts.
So the announcement doesn't exactly herald the dawn of a new era for subscription music services in general or Rhapsody in particular. The total number of people who pay for on-demand music services online is still dwarfed by the more than 21 million who subscribe to Sirius XM. And in a country of more than 110 million households, 1 million isn't mass market.
Nevertheless, Rhapsody President Jon Irwin insists that the new total is a real milestone. Although online music services have notched higher subscriber counts before, they were inflated by the inclusion of customers who'd signed up only for low-cost premium radio services. More important, Irwin noted that the way subscribers use Rhapsody has crossed a significant threshold as well. For the first time, most of that usage is not on a personal computer. Instead, more than half of the playback is on mobile phones, stereos, TV set-tops and other consumer electronics, with smartphones accounting for 40%.
Irwin said Rhapsody started focusing on smartphone users in 2009, and that focus paid very real dividends this year. The company was losing subscribers in the late 2000s because, like Napster and other competitors, it was charging too much for mobile access, Irwin said. The turnaround came after it helped persuade the labels to accept less for the rights to play songs on portable devices, enabling it to drop its monthly charge from $15 to $10.
Another factor for Rhapsody has been the partnerships it has struck with other service providers. It has long teamed with Verizon Wireless to offer Rhapsody to subscribers as a $10-a-month add-on. This year it went a step further with Metro PCS, which bundled Rhapsody into a $60-a-month unlimited data plan. That sort of bundling is the Holy Grail for subscription services.
A third factor in Rhapsody's recent growth was the Napster acquisition, although Irwin declined to say how many subscribers converted to Rhapsody after it extinguished the Napster brand this month. That growth may be good for Rhapsody, but it doesn't indicate any momentum for music services in general.
Irwin predicted that the next subscriber milestones "are going to come much faster" for Rhapsody. The competition is certainly stiffer. Apple, Amazon and Google rolled out free or low-cost services this year that let people store copies of their MP3 collections online, which they can play from any Internet-connected device or compatible mobile phone. For people who don't have a constant need for new songs, those options are pretty compelling.
For those who do want to hear lots of new music, Spotify has ushered in a much more generous form of "freemium" music service, offering a large amount of on-demand music for free as a way to attract people to its paid services. Spotify's CEO said recently that it had 2.5 million subscribers worldwide, most of them in Europe. The company's numbers could jump next month, when its initial U.S. customers reach the end of their allotment of unlimited free tracks and start bumping up against monthly caps.
Irwin remains skeptical about free advertiser-supported tiers as a way to acquire paid subscribers. The ad-supported model is a hard one to make work economically, he said, given how much the labels demand for the right to stream their songs on demand. He also wonders whether freemium services attract "music transients," people who switch from service to service as they exhaust their free trials. But he also said Rhapsody could switch to a freemium model in a heartbeat if a competitor demonstrates that it works financially. Whether it's a free tier or just a longer free trial, Irwin said, "it all goes to the same end: to show people the value of a subscription and get them to pay."
There's the rub. Compared with other forms of music consumption, not many people see the value in paying a monthly fee for access to a large music collection, as opposed to paying once for tracks that can be kept permanently. Irwin acknowledges that the Rhapsody model isn't for everybody, but he argues that it will become a mass-market way to consume music. Given that Rhapsody has "almost doubled" the number of subscribers since it was spun off from RealNetworks and Viacom in early 2010, Irwin said, and given the wealth of consumer-electronics devices Rhapsody is now available on, the service is "getting to the point where it can be mainstream."
Rhapsody is privately held, and Irwin declined to say whether it's profitable. "With a million-plus subscribers … I can cover my operating costs," he said, adding that the company may still need to plow cash back into attracting new partners, expanding internationally and improving its service. "If I want to be profitable, yeah, I can be profitable," he said. "I'm not going to be driven by short-term financial considerations."
– Jon Healey
Online music service Grooveshark is swimming in murky legal waters, as evidenced by the copyright-infringement lawsuit that three major record companies are now bringing against the site's owners and several of its executives. Judging from the amended complaint filed Thursday by Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment, however, that lawsuit won't be the last in a series of epic battles between tech companies and the entertainment industry over third-party liability. Instead, the case may hinge on the company's employees own efforts to stock the online jukebox.
Grooveshark lets people stream tracks from an online library of millions of songs. Some of those songs — the ones the company has licensed from EMI, a major record company, and numerous independent labels — were uploaded by Grooveshark. The rest — including thousands of unauthorized hits owned by Universal, Warner and Sony — were uploaded by users in violation of the site's terms of service, company executives say.
The company has long argued that it's not liable for the unauthorized songs because it's protected by the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The law provides a safe harbor for companies that give the public a place to store or share material online, provided that they don't know about or benefit financially from the infringements and that they take down infringing material when it's pointed out to them.
If Grooveshark is right, the lawsuit may turn out to be a meaningful battle over a DMCA-compliant site's duties in the face of rampant piracy — in effect, a rematch of Viacom's unsuccessful lawsuit against YouTube. (Viacom's appeal is pending at the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.). But the major labels' complaint seeks to avoid that fight by alleging that Grooveshark doesn't comply with the DMCA and isn't eligible for a safe harbor.
They base their claim on e-mails, internal documents and online comments by someone claiming to be a Grooveshark employee, all of which suggest that Grooveshark executives knew about and profited from the infringements. For example, the supposed whistleblower alleged that the company ordered employees to upload songs from the major labels, including the ones taken down in response to the copyright owners' complaints.
That sort of allegation has been a standard feature of the entertainment industry's lawsuits against online piracy hotbeds. In some cases, such as the suits against Limewire and Grokster, those internal documents helped convince judges. In others, such as Viacom versus YouTube, they didn't.
The YouTube ruling alarmed entertainment companies, who fear that its broad interpretation of the DMCA safe harbor gives sites too much freedom to build businesses around infringing material uploaded by the public. They're fighting to narrow the safe harbor's reach, both in court and in Congress.
Grooveshark epitomizes what copyright holders think is wrong with the DMCA. They complain that even when the site responds to their request to take down unauthorized tracks, the songs pop right back up. To get a feel for this, read the comments on this Digital Music News post about King Crimson's long fight to remove its material from the site. Copyright holders have pressed the courts and Congress for years to require sites to monitor uploads and block copyrighted material. So far, however, jurists and lawmakers have resisted, leaving the burden on copyright holders to identify specific instances of infringement and ask that they be removed.
What qualifies as knowledge is a matter of some dispute, but it's not enough for a company to be aware generally that some of its users are infringing. According to the statute, they must have "actual knowledge" that material on their site is infringing, or they must be "aware of facts or circumstances" that make the infringements apparent. Of course, ordering one's employees to upload unlicensed songs would be a pretty clear instance of "actual knowledge."
Even if the evidence supplied by the major labels isn't what it seems, Grooveshark has been pushing the limits of the safe harbor's protections. Its most recent redesign added an "Explore" section to help users discover more music they might like. Although the most prominent part of the section promotes songs and artists who have deals with Grooveshark, it also includes links to the most popular songs on its site — most of which are from artists and labels who don't have deals with the company.
John Ashenden, a senior vice president at Grooveshark, said the existence of the page doesn't mean the company knows that the listed tracks actually are what the links say they are. "This is an automated list of songs, based on day-to-day activity on our site," Ashenden said in an interview before the lawsuit was filed. "This isn’t a list that we are going out of our way to put together. We have really no direct control of the songs that pop up in the 'popular' section."
The lawsuit is the second that Universal has filed against Grooveshark. After EMI settled its claim against the site and granted it a license, Universal brought an infringement claim against Grooveshark in state court in New York, alleging violations of the state-law copyrights on songs recorded before 1972. That suit, which is still pending, will probably have to address Grooveshark's safe-harbor claims as well. As Digital Music News has pointed out, at least one federal judge in New York has opined that the safe harbor protects sites against claims under state law too.
– Jon Healey