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Court rules in favour of the record industry in Spinrilla dispute

By | Published on Wednesday 2 December 2020


A US court has ruled in favour of the major record companies on various points in their legal battle with mixtape sharing platform Spinrilla. The judge overseeing the case ruled that Spinrilla is liable for direct copyright infringement for facilitating the streaming of thousands of unlicensed tracks controlled by the majors, and that it cannot rely on safe harbour protection to avoid the liability, at least not for streams that took place before July 2017.

When the majors first went legal against the mixtape service in 2017, Spinrilla quickly hit back, arguing that previously it had enjoyed good relationships with the labels now suing it, some of which recognised the promo value of having tracks featured in unofficial mixtapes. As a result of those good relationships, it added, it had also previously removed mixes when labels said they did not want their tracks to appear.

In subsequent legal filings, Spinrilla argued that it was not directly liable for any copyright infringement, nor for the infringement of its users who had uploaded mixes to its platform containing unlicensed tracks. The latter argument relied on the good old copyright safe harbour contained in the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which protects internet companies from liability for infringement when their users upload unlicensed content to their networks or servers.

Safe harbour protection requires internet firms to remove unlicensed content at the request of a copyright owner and to have a policy for dealing with repeat infringers among its user base. But Spinrilla argued it did both of those things, even working with an audio ID company approved by the record industry.

There has been plenty of back and forth between the labels and Spinrilla as the litigation has gone through the motions, with the latter also countersuing over allegations the former had submitted dodgy takedown requests violating their obligations under the DMCA.

Both sides ultimately requested a summary judgement in their favour. And on Monday the judge issued a summary judgement mainly favouring the labels. She said that, by allowing mixtapes containing unlicensed tracks to be streamed via its platform, Spinrilla was liable for direct infringement.

It couldn’t rely on safe harbour protection because at the point the majors went legal it hadn’t completed all the formalities required under the DMCA, including registering as a DMCA agent with the US Copyright Office, and having and enforcing a repeat infringer policy.

The majors actually argue that Spinrilla should not enjoy safe harbour protection for unlicensed music streamed on its platform after July 2017, mainly on the basis that the company’s repeat infringer policy is not properly enforced. Though the judge said she didn’t need to rule on that argument, because it’s not directly relevant to the case which mainly centres on tracks uploaded to the Spinrilla platform prior to July 2017.

Needless to say, the Recording Industry Association Of America has welcomed to ruling. Its Chief Legal Officer Kenneth L Doroshow said yesterday: “We are gratified by the court’s decision, which sends a message that online streaming providers cannot hide behind the actions of their users to avoid their own liability for copyright infringement that occurs through their systems”.

“The decision also reaffirms that merely characterising unauthorised copies of sound recordings as ‘mixtapes’ does not make them any less infringing than any other unauthorised uses of copyrighted works”, he added. “The court got it exactly right on several key points of copyright law in the digital streaming context, and we hope that it serves as a lodestar for other courts and service providers alike”.