A bittersweet victory has been won by MP3tunes, a music cloud storage service that was sued by EMI way back in 2007.
MP3tunes allows users store their music, purchased or otherwise, in the online cloud and access their collection from a variety of web connected devices. MP3tunes also operates Sideload.com, which allows users to find free music on the Internet and load it into their MP3tunes "lockers".
EMI sued MP3tunes for copyright infringement, and the label accused MP3tunes of allowing users to access pirated songs, but MP3tunes fired back by saying they are protected by the DMCA's "safe harbor" provision, as the company was responsive to takedown requests. EMI even sued the founder of MP3tunes, Michael Robertson.
And it appears MP3tunes' argument worked, as the U.S. District Judge William Pauley supported the argument that "safe harbor" was in play. Central to the defense was that MP3tunes was able to show they reacted promptly to DMCA takedown requests, and actively removed repeat infringers from their system.
But despite the overall victory, MP3tunes could still be liable for millions in damages due to other parts of the lawsuit which the judge gave victory to EMI. EMI claimed that the MP3tunes operated website Sideload.com hosted links to infringing content, which while MP3tunes removed after letters requesting immediate action, the company did not go into people's lockers and remove copies of the songs that had been "sideloaded" in. And users that took advantage of these pirated songs included MP3tunes executives and employees, including founder Michael Robertson himself.
With statutory damages ranging from $750 per work to $150,000 for cases of willful infringement, MP3tunes could still be hit with a huge financial loss for the 500 or so songs EMI initially listed, a damages figure that could go as high as $75m.
"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," said EMI in a statement made after the court decision. "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 ... 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."