(CN) – A federal judge upheld a music website’s space-saving, cloud-based business model but ordered the site to remove clearly infringing content from its users’ accounts.
MP3tunes LLC offers users a virtual locker to store their uploaded private music collections. As long as users have an Internet connection, they can log on and access their music locker, wherever they may be.
The service also allows users to “sideload” (as opposed to download) content from third-party sites to their locker.
Record companies have criticized the sites, with EMI spearheading a lawsuit along with 14 other music publishers and labels that claims MP3tunes violated copyright by refusing to remove content the labels identified as infringing.
The labels insist that some of their artists, including Jay-Z and Usher, have demanded removal of all their copyright works from individual lockers – essentially challenging service that MP3tunes offers.
A lawsuit against MP3.com, the previous incarnation of the cloud music service, had resulted in a multimillion-dollar copyright judgment that eventually shuttered the site.
On Monday, however, U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III in Manhattan said that MP3tunes offered a service that qualifies for “safe harbor” under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which protects companies from the copyright infringements of its users.
MP3tunes enforces a policy of deleting the accounts of repeat offenders, but it lacks direct and obvious knowledge that MP3tunes users may be sideloading songs from unauthorized websites.
Although service providers aren’t required to police all content, Pauley agreed that MP3tunes had to remove the 350 copyrighted songs EMI identified from all users’ lockers
But a record label cannot vaguely ban “‘all songs’ by a particular artist,” he added.
Pauley also upheld MP3tunes’ storage practice of matching songs from an individual user’s library to a master copy using “hash tags.”
The ruling sets a precedent allowing other cloud-computing providers, such as Apple, Google and Dropbox, to save bandwidth and hard drive space by continuing this shared master copy practice.
The ruling holds MP3tunes CEO and founder Michael Robertson personally liable for any infringing content kept in his own online locker. Robertson used to work at Google.