Grooveshark, in case you hadn’t heard of it before, is a music streaming service much like Last.fm and Spotify that is free to desktop listeners but charges mobile users a $3 monthly fee (or $30 for the whole year) for unrestricted access to its five-million strong library. Spotify charges users £9.99 per month so by comparison, it’s a pretty good deal.
Although music streaming services in general tend to occupy a very grey area, Grooveshark has managed to navigate its way through multiple lawsuits over the years by striking licensing deals with labels such as EMI and Merlin. Along the way it has gradually spread its wings to all the major mobile platforms, including Android, BlackBerry, Symbian and the Palm webOS. All of them that is but the most important of the lot: Apple’s iPhone.
After a year-long battle, it finally managed to get approved this month. But even before Grooveshark staff could recover from the celebratory hangover, its app has been pulled from the App Store.
It turns out that Universal Music Group UK, which has an ongoing legal spat with Grooveshark, did not take to the approval too kindly.
But why is it that Apple felt the need to pull the app, even though rival platforms have been offering it for some time now? And then continue to offer it without any legal repercussions?
It could be that Apple’s policy conflicts with Grooveshark’s pending lawsuit. But then again, it would not have approved the app in the first place if that were true.
Another possibility is that Apple has a major deal with Universal for its own iTunes service and does not want to upset the label. However, once again why would Apple approve the app at all if that were the case?
Did it think it could get away with it without causing a fuss? Or did it deliberately approve the app knowing exactly what would happen and thus have an excuse to reject this pesky app once and for all?
OK, perhaps that seems a little far-fetched but knowing Apple’s patchy history with approval policies and censorship, it’s not entirely out the realm of possibility.
Some observers believe that the reason Apple doesn’t want Grooveshark around is because of the threat it poses to iTunes. Then again Spotify, a similar service, and arguably more popular, is available on iTunes right now. So the question is, is Apple being a hypocrite or does it have a genuinely good reason that’s unknown to us to heed to Universal’s complaint?
Grooveshark maintains that it is "our policy to honor all takedown requests that comply with the requirements of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and other applicable intellectual property laws”.
It has an artist/label program "to ensure that any owner of content will be compensated fairly for each time their content is played."
It’s a bit difficult to put a finger on Apple’s role in all this. Brushing aside the conspiracy nut in me, I have to give Apple the benefit of the doubt and say it is probably within its rights to remove the app as long as it’s in breach of copyrighted material.
So the decision rests with Grooveshark to do what it takes to settle the lawsuit with Universal quickly, and if necessary, remove all Universal music from its service until it does so.
It’s not all gloomy for Grooveshark fans though. The app still works for those lucky few that managed to download it before the axe fell.
So as Grooveshark pointed out in its blog: “if you’ve already downloaded the app, keep enjoying it.”