Grooveshark faces possible $736m payout as Universal damages trial kicks off

The owner of notorious streaming site Grooveshark, Escape Media, will come face-to-face with Universal Music Group in court today – facing the possibility of paying damages costing more than $736m.

New York District Court Judge Thomas Griesa previously ordered that Grooveshark is potentially liable for statutory damages related to thousands of tracks uploaded onto the site by its employees.

Grooveshark founders Sam Tarantino and Josh Greenberg are joint and severally liable for whatever copyright infringement a statutory damages trial may find them guilty of in the coming days.

By targeting those running the site, rather than fans who uploaded material, UMG is attempting to prove ‘willful infringements’.

This tactic could amount to a whopping bill for Tarantino and Greenberg: a jury in New York today will be informed that the maximum statutory damages is $150,000 per infringed work.

The reason the plaintiffs (UMG) have pushed for this undertaking is because any willful copyright infringement costs significantly more in damages than a standard infringement.

“The defendants actively directed, encouraged and condoned company-wide infringement by instructing employees to upload recordings.”

New York District Judge Summary

If Grooveshark’s alleged misdemeanors were not willful, UMG would only be permitted to press for $750 to $1,500 per infringement.

The New York district judge identified 2,963 recordings uploaded by Grooveshark employees that are at issue.

In addition, this week’s trial will count a further 1,944 ‘inferred uploads’ on account of the defendants ‘spoiling’ evidence – essentially being caught deleting upload data and records “in bad faith”.

This, found the New York district judge, precluded plaintiffs and the court from determining “the full scope and scale of Escape’s piracy campaign.”

In total, that leaves Tarantino and Greenberg potentially liable for 4,907 tracks. If the maximum damages are applied by the jury in their ruling, that would amount to $736,050,000 in damages.

The court’s Summary Judgement decision included a finding that “by overtly instructing its employees to upload as many files as possible to Grooveshark as a condition of their employment, Escape engaged in purposeful conduct with a manifest intent to foster copyright infringement via the Grooveshark service.”

It also includes other findings that defendants “actively directed, encouraged, and condoned the company-wide infringement through instructing employees to upload copyrighted sound recordings and through creating a Central Music Library to store and stream copies of plaintiffs’ work” and that Escape “knew of and materially contributed to the infringing employee uploads”.

Universal is expecting Tarantino and Greenberg’s lawyers to argue that because pre-1972 recordings in the US are not covered by copyright law, any tracks that were recorded before this date and then remastered by UMG should not be considered in the case.

 Music Business Worldwide

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