A popular site that enabled users to create mixtapes of hip-hop tracks has shut down after agreeing to pay USD $50 million over copyright infringement.
A group that included record labels from all of the big three recording companies sued Spinrilla in 2017, alleging that “a substantial amount of content uploaded to the Spinrilla website” belonged to the record companies.
Spinrilla had dubbed itself “the 800-pound gorilla of hip-hop mixtapes.”
In a judgment issued last Wednesday (May 3), US District Court judge Amy Totenberg, who sits on the bench for the northern district of Georgia, Atlanta division, ordered Spinrilla and its founder, Jeffrey Copeland, to pay the record companies the $50 million fine, and gave Spinrilla five days to take its services offline.
The ruling also prohibited all employees of Spinrilla, as well as people who worked “in active concert or participation” with Spinrilla, from ever operating a service “that is substantively similar to the Spinrilla Service.”
The plaintiffs in the case were Warner Music Group’s Atlantic Records and Electra Records, Sony Music Entertainment’s LaFace Records, Arista Music, Zomba Records and Sony Music US Latin, as well as Universal Music Group’s Bad Boy Records and Capitol Records, along with Roc-A-Fella Records, Jay-Z’s now-defunct label.
In its defense against the lawsuit, Spinrilla argued that it had been “cooperating for years in a variety of ways” with the record companies “to successfully prevent and remove unauthorized music from Spinrilla.com.”
The company invoked the “safe harbor” clause of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which shields online services from being pursued for copyright violations carried out by those services’ users.
However, in a 2020 opinion, Judge Totenberg rejected that defense, noting that Spinrilla hadn’t met the requirements for safe harbor laid out in the DMCA: The company didn’t have the required policy towards repeat infringers, and it didn’t hire a DMCA agent – someone with whom official copyright complaints could be filed – until after being served with the lawsuit in 2017.
Judge Totenberg identified 4,082 tracks that had been uploaded and distributed without permission.
Under the DMCA, each violation carries a penalty of between $750 and $150,000. The ruling exposed Spinrilla and Copeland to a penalty between $3 million and $612 million.
But before proceedings could begin to determine the amount to be awarded, Spinrilla and Copeland submitted an offer of judgment to the court, under which the defendants agreed to a $50 million fine and to shut down the service permanently.
It’s estimated that Spinrilla accumulated millions of users since its launch in 2013. The service’s Android app had more than 10 million downloads on the Google Play Store, some 195,000 followers on its Twitter feed, which is still live, and a similar amount of followers on Facebook.
The case has echoes of the fight between music streaming site Grooveshark and Universal Music Group, which ended in 2015 when Grooveshark’s founders agreed to shutter the site in exchange for avoiding paying financial damages. Grooveshark’s founders, Josh Greenberg and Sam Tarantino, also agreed they would pay $75 million if they were ever found infringing the majors’ music copyrights again. (Greenberg was found dead two months after the settlement with UMG was agreed.)
In December 2015, streaming service Aurous – dubbed “the new Grooveshark” – shut down and agreed to pay $3 million in damages to the major music companies.Music Business Worldwide