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Free Music Lovers “Forever Alone”— Or Perhaps Not

By Kelley Shaw (USA); Class of 2013 – BSc Cognitive Psychology and Neuroscience

Due to unreasonable high operating costs, Grooveshark is discontinuing access from Germany” was the message available on the Grooveshark website on the morning of January 18th, featuring a picture of a broken heart. The only option Grooveshark gave its users was the suggestion to write to GEMA. GEMA recently requested Grooveshark to pay higher licensing prices for its music after a corporate agreement with Bitkom, a Berlin-based representation company, was signed. Bitkom provides representation for tech companies like Grooveshark and other music streaming engines.

What GEMA cannot control however, is the fact that Grooveshark can in fact be “unblocked” using certain proxies, like the “Grooveshark Germany Unlocker” available for download at chip.de. Proxies like these give users an artificial foreign IP address, which provides access to still available sites like Grooveshark in the US or Britain. Grooveshark is currently being sued by “all major recording companies” in the United States.

Germany, however, is not alone in new changes that are starting to affect music streaming. The highly provocative SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) law is now being considered by the US congress. If passed, the law could have devastating effects for music lovers all over the world.

SOPA was written by U.S. representative Lamar S. Smith of Texas and would allow music streaming sites offering “copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods” to the public in form of music to be blocked or even blocked from search engine results completely. This would put the law in the hands of the companies who believe their products have been stolen and given out for “free” on the internet. By now it´s no secret that sites like Wikipedia and WordPress “went dark” on January 18th, uncannily the same day that Grooveshark ceased its functionality in Germany.

Proponents of the law, like the Recording Industry of America, argue that it protects American jobs, intellectual property and strengthens protection against foreign websites. On the other side, those who oppose the law—including companies like Google and Wikipedia—say it is a violation of free speech and poorly written. But how could the law affect everyone and not just Americans?

“YouTube would just go dark immediately,” said Google´s public policy director at a conference in December. “It couldn´t function.” The majority of original YouTube music videos in Germany are blocked due to copyright restrictions by GEMA.

“The search engines did not break any law, so I don´t understand why they should be shut down because they never provided the users with any downloading services.” says Yina Wu, a first-year International Politics and History student at Jacobs University. “Also, such shut-down of the search engines would actually incite users to try to download the music just because they are not able to listen online.”

But not all hope is lost. On January 20th, the bill was officially “postponed” by congress.

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