clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Grooveshark, the Free Music Service That Used to Scare the Big Labels, Gives Up

As part of a court settlement: An apology, and a plug for legal services like Spotify.

Asianet-Pakistan /
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Remember Grooveshark?

At one time, the music startup — which promised 35 million users they could “Play any song in the world, for free!” but that didn’t have deals to pay the big music labels — seemed like a problem for the music industry. Now it’s dead.

After losing a six-year legal battle, Escape Media, the company that owns Grooveshark, is formally conceding to the music labels that sued it.

In a settlement with Universal Music Group, Sony Music and Warner Music Group, the company’s founders are shutting down their website, apps and everything else they own, wiping their servers clean of music and offering a formal apology to the industry.

And just to drive the point home, the company is telling its users to go buy subscriptions from licensed streaming services, like Spotify, Deezer and Google Play.

Last week, a U.S. District Court judge told a jury that Escape could be liable for up to $736 million in damages after losing a copyright case. Under the terms of the settlement, Escape doesn’t have to pay the labels anything, but would have to pay the labels $75 million if they violate the terms of the agreement.

Here’s the text Grooveshark founders Josh Greenberg and Sam Tarantino have posted on their site, which is largely self-explanatory:

Dear music fans,

Today we are shutting down Grooveshark.

We started out nearly ten years ago with the goal of helping fans share and discover music. But despite [the] best of intentions, we made very serious mistakes. We failed to secure licenses from rights holders for the vast amount of music on the service.

That was wrong. We apologize. Without reservation.

As part of a settlement agreement with the major record companies, we have agreed to cease operations immediately, wipe clean all the data on our servers and hand over ownership of this website, our mobile apps and intellectual property, including our patents and copyrights.

At that time of our launch, few music services provided the experience we wanted to offer ­and think you deserve. Fortunately, that’s no longer the case. There are now hundreds of fan friendly, affordable services available for you to choose from, including Spotify, Deezer, Google Play, Beats Music, Rhapsody and Rdio, among many others.

If you love music and respect the artists, songwriters and everyone else who makes great music possible, use a licensed service that compensates artists and other rights holders. You can find out more about the many great services available where you live here:

It has been a privilege getting to know so many of you and enjoying great music together. Thank you for being such passionate fans.

Yours in music,
Your friends at Grooveshark”

Some relevant additional context: Contrary to the founders’ statement, paid streaming services were around for most of the company’s life, though until the last couple years they weren’t very popular.

And Grooveshark wasn’t interested in a model where it licensed music and charged consumers to listen to it; instead, the company argued that it was operating something similar to YouTube, where users uploaded songs to their servers, without prompting from the company itself, which meant it could be protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

But it wasn’t hard for the courts to conclude that Grooveshark employees themselves had uploaded thousands of songs with the knowledge that they didn’t have the right to do so. Which made its legal fights fairly easy to resolve.

Of course, like many legal fights, this one is about a battle that’s already over. In the U.S., at least, the big music labels are no longer anguished about services that illegally serve up free music.

Instead they are worried about legal services that stream free music, like YouTube and Spotify; the labels are trying to get those services to cut back on the free music they offer and push their listeners to pay for subscriptions.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.