October 11, 2019
Startup Audius, which relies on blockchain for its music streaming service, has received kudos from many in the industry that agree with the company’s assessment that “music platforms were at their best when they listened to what artists and fans wanted — not corporations or major labels.” Audius is positioning itself as a competitor to SoundCloud, once known as a hotspot for emerging musicians. But Audius has the same problem found on that service: unlicensed content that the company cannot remove.
The Verge reports that “although SoundCloud had a content ID system in place since 2011, it began more rigorously enforcing copyright complaints after inking deals with labels, often with haphazard results.”
Now, it appears, Audius is having the same problem. Quinnipiac School of Law professor of entertainment law Kevin Casini noted that “they say ‘We don’t have the ability to de-platform you or censor you’.” “What I hear when I read that is, ‘It’s going to be real difficult for us to take down anything that you put up’,” he said.
In other words, it’s an ideal site for people who know that if they upload pirated content the service is “not going to look at it and see what it is.” That, said Casini, is equivalent to telling lawbreakers, “you can come here and do it.”
Audius chief executive Roneil Rumburg said that “it’s aiming at the up-and-comers who once would have used SoundCloud.” But, notes The Verge, “everything Audius says it’s solving with the blockchain — a more direct line between fans and artists, discovery, self-monetizing — can be done without the blockchain,” as Bandcamp and Patreon are doing.
Most of the infringement problems found on music services are not solved by blockchain and “in some cases, make it worse.” Audius’ “open-source protocol, built on blockchain, means that the responsibility of hosting and making uploaded content available is spread out among people who register as node operators.”
But whether it protects them from liability is “actually an open question.” The company also stated it has no content ID system to catch potential infringement — and, “there’s no way for Audius to remove infringing material, and … no way to file an infringement claim on the website.” As a result, says The Verge, “lawsuits from major publishers or labels could easily wipe out Audius’ capital.”
Currently, the site hosts “scores of unsanctioned remixes using material from the likes of Kanye West and Eric Prydz,” who are not being paid for the use. Audius stated that it will implement a payment system “TBD as sometime next year.” Even if Audius isn’t “directly liable for infringement, it can still be held secondarily liable if a court finds it promotes ‘its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement’.”
The Verge compares it to Grokster, which also didn’t host materials and only allowed people to share files with each other; “it lost that fight in the Supreme Court, and it shut down in 2005.”