In a significant court ruling Monday, a Manhattan judge ruled that cloud music services are in the clear to store a single copy of a song and allow users to listen to that copy — as long as it can be confirmed they own the song on their hard drives.
The ruling frees up “cloud music locker” services like Google Music and Amazon Cloud Drive to scan a user’s collection and give them access to a matching song immediately rather than forcing them to upload the track manually.
However, the track stored by the “cloud music locker” service must have the exact same tagging as the scanned track to get access to it. For example, let’s say Amazon Cloud Drive has an official ripped track of Kanye West’s “Dark Fantasy” from Amazon’s library on its hard drive. If a user wants to automatically listen to that track through Cloud Drive, the user must own an Amazon ripped copy. If the user ripped the song from a CD, which would have different tags from Amazon’s copy, they would have to upload it manually.
The complicated case centered around the early cloud music service MP3Tunes and the question of whether the service and its websites infringed on music licensing company EMI’s copyrights. Essentially, EMI was concerned that users were uploading illegally obtained music to MP3Tunes and were listening to those songs using the service. EMI sued MP3Tunes and founder Michael Robertson in 2007, and the fact that it is just wrapping up now shows the complexity of the case.
MP3Tunes’ service was found to be mostly legal under the Digital Millenium Copyright Act’s “safe harbor” provisions because it could not be held at fault for the actions of its users. That part of the ruling also helps all cloud locker services, because they want protection against investigators when their users upload and listen to music they don’t actually own.
However, MP3Tunes was also found to be partially at fault for another concern. It owned a site called Sideload.com that allowed users to listen to music from any link found on the web. MP3Tunes users could copy the files from those links to their music lockers. EMI and other music companies sent notices asking MP3Tunes to take the songs down from Sideload and to remove the violating songs from the music lockers. MP3Tunes removed the songs from Sideload but did not take out the tracks from music lockers.
Although the case and ruling are complicated, this is a win for any service that wants to let users listen to their own music from the cloud. Rest assured this will not be the end of this discussion, as the music industry continues to further fight for control of how users access their music.