In the early days of music streaming, perhaps 15 years ago, using services like Napster and Limewire meant constantly holding two thoughts together: This can’t possibly be legal, and They can’t possibly catch me. At the time, the legality of music piracy wasn’t really in question—copyrighted material was being distributed without royalties—but the ability of the courts to do anything about it was.
But that was more than a decade ago, so it is somewhat shocking that as late as earlier this week—in 2015—Grooveshark, which was essentially a Napster in the cloud, still existed. The site didn’t have the proper licenses to host all of the music it offered to users for free, and even had the gall to put up ads, from companies as established as Mercedes-Benz, alongside that unlicensed, copyright-protected material. (Sometimes, though Grooveshark's library was mostly the product of crowdsourcing, it was employees who were the ones uploading the tracks.) On top of all that, the company sold subscriptions, for a premium ad-free service.
Given this business model, it is no surprise that Grooveshark shut down, but it is a surprise that it took until now for that to happen. How did it survive all these years? “Good lawyers, basically,” says Mark Mulligan, the founder of MIDiA Research, a media consultancy. “It took [the labels] time to be able to make the case. Ultimately, they were always going to get there, but the complexity of copyright law almost always means that these cases can take a huge amount of time.”