Grokster has partnered with 'P2P radio' company Mercora to offer what it claims is "the Internet's largest, legal and licensed peer-to-peer music search and discovery service".
Given Grokster's own insistence - backed, it has to be said, by US District Court and appeal court rulings - that its own P2P network is legal, we're not sure why it needs to stress the legality of its own-branded version of Mercora's music broadcasting software.
Grokster's Windows-only distribution will be called Grokster Radio. It's "legal and licensed" because Mercora has a number of non-interactive webcasting licences, as provisioned by the notorious Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Non-interactive webcasting essentially means not telling anyone in advance what you're going to broadcast, and not letting them choose to listen to specific songs.
Mercora's "licence pertains to the digital performance rights of sound recordings and the associated reporting and royalty payments to SoundExchange", it says. "We have also obtained all US (and in some cases international) musical composition performance rights through our licenses with ASCAP, BMI and SESAC."
Sub-licensing provisions allow Mercora to worry about its users' licensing, reporting and royalty obligations without them having to. Ditto Grokster users and the company itself, which said it would be broadcasting seven channels in addition to those of its users'.
Unlike regular radio, you don't have to put up with DJs waffling over the start and end of songs, but without knowing what's coming up, it's harder for listeners to record the songs they want in order to avoid having to pay for them. That's why the licensing provisions are rather more relaxed than they are for music retail, for instance.
In essence, P2P radio provides a way of sharing songs with a much-reduced opportunity for copyright infringement. Music fans get to play stuff they like to other music fans, and the music industry gets an opportunity to gauge what's hot and what's not - without the risk of losing too much income. Artists get paid a royalty - albeit a very small one. It's what P2P was always about - music discovery, access to better selections of songs that station playlists provide, etc. - without the risks.
That said, since it's easy enough to hijack audio streams, tech-savvy listeners will be able to grab songs in any case, though it won't be as smooth a process as pulling them off Grokster's regular P2P client, we suspect.
And it may well provide Grokster - and others of its ilk - with a future should the Supreme Court or a change to the law come place the burden of responsibility for P2P-based copyright infringement on the P2P companies themselves. ®
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