Business News Digital Labels & Publishers Legal Top Stories

RIAA gets in quick with lawsuit against “Popcorn Time of music”

By | Published on Wednesday 14 October 2015


The Recording Industry Association Of America has got in quick with a lawsuit against the much hyped aggregated-stream-player Aurous, even though it’s only just launched in alpha.

Widely compared to Popcorn Time, which taps content on the file-sharing networks to stream films through a Netflix-like platform, most pre-launch talk about Aurous said it would do the same with music. When it went live this weekend a mixed-bag review of the service from Torrentfreak said most of the music files being streamed originated with piracy hub Pleer and the vKontakte platform, the Russian social network which has had its own run-ins with the record industry of late.

Assuming that is the core Aurous model, then the RIAA likely has a decent case. True, some supporters of the service have already pointed out that Aurous will not host any copyright infringing content itself. But the “we don’t actually host the files” defence has been unsuccessfully employed by numerous file-sharing technologies over the years. In the main, most courts have not accepted that argument and therefore held such services – whether file-sharing clients or BitTorrent search engines – liable for contributory or authorising copyright infringement.

‘Safe harbours’ have also been mentioned, it being something of a buzzword in music rights circles at the moment. Though if Aurous is deliberately and specifically tapping widely acknowledged unlicensed sources of music content, that’s a whole load different to user-upload platforms or generic search engines, where a service is inadvertently assisting in the distribution or sign-posting of infringing material as a by-product of another legit operation.

Except that Aurous creator Andrew Sampson insists that his new product has been misrepresented, and that it is more a platform-agnostic playlisting tool – in similar territory to Tomahawk and – that will ultimately pull in music from the likes of YouTube, SoundCloud and subscription music services, as well as crawling the wider web for music content.

Sampson told Billboard: “At the most fundamental level, it’s a music player like any other. What stands out is that it can take advantage of other existing platforms and piggyback off those. You have YouTube, Spotify playlists, Apple Music playlists – the end goal, once we’re out of alpha, is to put those playlists into our app, and it’ll do the rest of the work. So you can listen from anywhere that you have a playlist. I’d refer to it as a player of players. You can play content that you already own – we use licensed content APIs for that”.

That would confuse things a little in legal terms, though a litigious record industry may well seek to cut off access to legit platform feeds while demanding Apple and Google not stock any Aurous mobile app.

So even if the legalities are not as straightforward as the RIAA says, there is still enough ambiguity to make this business plan tricky. And where you have ambiguities in copyright law, legal battles are often won by whoever has the biggest pockets. A start-up already being sued by the major record companies will struggle to raise serious finance, investors being cautious of possible infringement liabilities.

However, Sampson does already have the backing of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and was certainly bullish when responding to the record industry’s “empty” legal action yesterday. But for its part, the RIAA insisted this was a straight case of copyright infringement inline with the seminal file-sharing cases against Grokster and Limewire.

The trade group said in a statement: “This service is a flagrant example of a business model powered by copyright theft on a massive scale. Like Grokster, Limewire or Grooveshark, it is neither licensed nor legal. We will not allow such a service to wilfully trample the rights of music creators”.