Legit and Illegitimate Streaming Music


Two announcements Wednesday highlight the disconnect between copyright law and the market for copyrighted music. First, and unsuprisingly, music search site Seeqpod got sued for direct, contributory, and vicarious copyright infringement by Warner Music Group. The site allows visitors to search the internet for music and play it in a flash player embedded in the page of search results. Seeqpod doesn't host any infringing files itself, but it does create the impression that it is making those files available by direct-linking to them within its own interface.

Meanwhile, similar music website Last.fm began offering free streaming of most of the tracks in its catalogue . EMI, Sony, Universal, Warner, and thousands of indie labels and artists all authorized the move, which will give them a cut of Last.fm's ad revenue for every play. Each track will only be free for 3 listens a user, and then you'll get a message promoting the site's subscription service. The site had previously offered 30-second samples of some songs and free mp3s of some others.

Both sites are giving users easy and free access to songs on demand. One is technically not violating the copyright owner's exclusive reproduction or distribution right, by not hosting content itself (though the contributory and vicarious claims are stronger), but probably doesn't have the money to fight a lawsuit and will fold. The other got major content owners to support its venture by offering them a slice. In the end, users get unquestionably lawful on-demand music streaming. Law isn't always the answer – in Last.fm, rather than relying on expensive and risky litigation, the parties bargained to reach a solution that's good for everyone.

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