Monday, April 25, 2011

Is Grooveshark, the music streaming service legal?

Grooveshark is a music streaming service like no other. Other services either allow you to stream music for a monthly fee, some are free but have limited features and so on. Grooveshark is a completely free service (has paid options, explained later). It allows you to stream almost any kind of music in the world, whenever you want, without requiring a payment at all.

But is this business model legal? Read on to find out the details.

One, short answer?
The short answer for this is tricky. It is legal, but it is also not legal depending on who you are.

For Grooveshark, I'll have to urge you to read on, because there is no single, simple answer. You can decide for yourself later.

How it works

Grooveshark is really simple. You go to the website, and you are greeted with a nice, HTML5 interface. You search for any kind of genre, artist, album or song in the world, and you are presented with results. You pick a song to play, make a playlist or something, and groove out. You don't even require to create an account if you just want to listen to music. It's free, it's unlimited.

You can also pick one of the genre radio stations, and music from that genre is continuously played until you stop. No restrictions here too. You can even add other tracks in the radio playlists too.

What's the paid part?

Grooveshark is ad-supported. But the ads are pretty unobtrusive too. There are some paid upgrades available too. As of this writing, the Grooveshark Plus upgrade is $6/month, which removes the ads, gives you access to the desktop app, gives you extra customizability among other things. The Grooveshark Anywhere upgrade is $9/month, which allows you to use the mobile apps.

The business model
Grooveshark has a very controversial business model. Anyone can upload any music they like. There is no way to track if the artist uploaded the music. The music industry is paid too. But, the recording labels need to register with Grooveshark in order to claim their music on the site and make revenue from it.

In their Terms of Service, Grooveshark mentions that they don't want people to upload content they own the copyright to. They also make it clear how to file a copyright infringement request. So far, lots of record labels have actually registered with Grooveshark, and are probably getting paid for their music. There is a full list over here. See it, and get surprised.

Grooveshark's terms also say that all the uploaded content is to be used without downloading it, except for streaming. They provide download links for songs... but only through iTunes or Amazon.

The huge record labels, like Universal, Sony, and more do not like this model. They surely have their own reasons. Maybe they think they will make more loss by embracing Grooveshark. They haven't registered yet. The Grooveshark Android and iPhone apps were removed from their respective app stores recently.

Grooveshark is not giving in either. They published an open letter pointed towards Google, who removed the app from the Android Marketplace. But the letter also talks about broader concerns. Generally speaking, they want to stand for their service.

I (and many other people on the Internet) believe that for now, it is perfectly fine for you to stream music off of Grooveshark, even if you are a perfectionist and hate piracy. At least you can discover new music, and purchase it later on if you like it. I think that Grooveshark is a perfect platform especially for indie artists to get heard through.

I really like Grooveshark, and personally believe that the business model is really good. It is open and accessible. If the big record labels can learn to embrace and live together with Grooveshark, the world will become a better place.