Are We All Pirates? (Part 5)

7/24/2012 11:45:30 AM

Grooveshark, TV and Malaysia

Description: Grooveshark


What that is applicable to illegal movie streaming site does, in principle, work in music streaming sites as well. Grooveshark is one such site, which is popular and provides free streaming of music even without the need of registration. This service appears to be legal to the user, even though the contents of the site may be as illegal is's. Grooveshark's operators have never possessed the rights to the songs and had presumably uploaded hundreds of thousands of MP3s themselves. They had been in loggerheads with many music labels since 2007, and by 2011 notable labels like Universal, Sony and Warner have filed complaints and lawsuits against Grooveshark. Mobile versions of it were taken off the Apple App Store and Google Play. In Germany, Grooveshark has been blocked GEMA, a performance rights organisation, on grounds that Grooveshark never had any licensing in the country.

But is Grooveshark an illegal service? Not yet, apparently, as there is no higher decree saying that it really is. On April 18th 2011, Grooveshark’s Senior VP of external affairs, Paul Geller, released an open letter to the music industry explaining how Grooveshark is legal, even though it's not completely licensed. "There is a distinction between legal and licensed," read the letter. "Laws come from Congress. Licenses come from businesses. Grooveshark is completely legal because we comply with the laws passed by Congress, but we are not licensed by every label (yet).We are a technology company, and we operate within the boundaries of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA). Some would have you believe that those of us who use the DMCA to innovate are inherently infringers and that claiming Safe Harbour under the DMCA is as good as admitting guilt. Not so."

Description: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA).

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 (DMCA).

Grooveshark has been skirting the edge of copyright infringement by relying on their users to follow guidelines when uploading. Their terms of service outlines that no user content shall be illegal or obscene, and it's their policy to honour all takedown requests that comply with the DMCA and other IP laws. They even have a web-based DMCA takedown tool to help content owner manage material on Grooveshark and to work with them in taking down possible infringed content.

Sites streaming TV content also lead a very shadowy existence, as distribution of TV signals is not consistent with the law. But us agencies did bring notice to the world by shutting down 307 websites, in one shot, on the 2nd of February. Among the sites shut down were 16 illegal TV streaming sites, including This large operation, codenamed "Operation Fake Sweep", was part of a massive campaign against Internet piracy, as well as to curb illegal distribution of files and software and consumer products.

Description: P2P-TV Recorder

P2P-TV Recorder

Users who viewed these sites, though, are not under threat, as TV broadcasters would only take action against the illegal site operators — if they ever do take any action at all. P2P-TV tools, where one end would receive the actual TV signal, are a harder infringement to define, as the actual broadcasting and receiving of broadcast do actually take place. Still, as according to Marion Janke, one does not just infringe on the copyright but also on the broadcasting right. According to her, the claims for indemnification are still implausible, since the costs for the TV broadcasters would be much more than the incurred damages.

Either way, you'll be fine so long you view content on legal streaming sites, which we've detailed. The question, of course, is whether it's considered legal or not if your country has denied access to it? You may remember the incident reported in June 11th, 2011, that 10 file-sharing sites had been blocked by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC). Most of these sites are still up and have yet to have gotten into legal trouble, and access to them can easily be bypassed with a proxy, but are they still legal to access and utilise? There seems to be no law directly prohibiting it, though the best way to look at it is to take things on the whole and look at it in a content perspective, and not too much on the service. Perhaps the best way is to be simply educated on the grounds of copyright infringement.

Legal services

Megaupload, and the sites blocked by MCMC history, but there are still a variety of alternative online music portals and streaming sites which you can use while legally secure.

File Hosting

File Hosting

Description: Music Portals

Music Portals

Description: Film/TV ( not entirely available in Malaysia)

Film/TV ( not entirely available in Malaysia)

Not being a pirate is still hardly possible

Description: Grooveshark is one of the most favourited music sites on the Web, but is now facing major lawsuits from various record labels

Grooveshark is one of the most favourited music sites on the Web, but is now facing major lawsuits from various record labels

We take ourselves back to the beginning, and ask ourselves again: are we all pirates? We may be, perhaps. It's indubitable, in this age of the Internet, and we have, at least, pirated something once, whether we're aware of it or not. The harmless MP3 shared between friends, the video streamed on a random site, the YouTube videos which we've downloaded... we've all done that, somehow. Copyright violations are not petty offences, but they may seem to be. Either way, a true and clear-cut definition of that fine line between legal and illegal needs to be further thickened. We stand on a legally-unclear area, which is hardly helpful.

The cases we've touched upon shows that it's no longer easy to use the web without somehow infringing upon copyrights. Yes, innocent acts performed out of ignorance could be just as serious as a blatant act of illegal downloading. The simple solution is to redefine that legality line, but that may prove to be difficult, as evident today.

No, perhaps the solution is not on the legality of things, but really on the way content can be reached and distributed to the masses. Online music distribution sites like ¡Tunes are on the right path; the problem is actually putting this attractiveness across other services. The fact shown is this: users are willing to pay for content: the content just has to be here fast, whole and without fuss. "The content industry caters to the demand an offer that reliably makes all movies, series, songs, games and texts available at the same time as their first publishing even with flat rate. This is surely better than piracy", says Tim Renner.

This is particularly more crucial in the Malaysian context. It's no mystery that Malaysia is a piracy-driven country, where the act is already ingrained as part of our culture, if not a culture itself. It didn't help that we've been restricted and constrained by various licensing and censorship issues. Content available to the world may not be available to us, and not everyone can afford the arduous and expensive process of shipping something in. Even the purchase of original products fall pale compared to the ease, cheapness and readiness of pirated copies. What we need may not be stricter law and bigger Internet censorship. What we need is Hulu and Netflix.

But till this become available to us, or made easier to the world, replacements for Megaupload and will take place. And once you cut out a stream, another will be found. Private networks and the Darknet will gain more popularity. The line of legality may continue to blur, or new grey zones will crop.

This will be a never-ending cycle, an Ouroboros serpent of the digital world. Till then, what's most pertinent is learning how to identify that grey line, learning the places that are safe to step, and knowing how you can defend yourself when you are wrongly charged. And, perhaps, actually really do stop being a pirate.

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