In the turbulent, choppy waters where P2P networks and copyright law chomp at each other's fins for dominance, there's at least one beast that thinks it has a solution to keep everybody happy. Its name: Grooveshark. The tagline? "Everybody gets paid."
As content distribution has mutated from analog to digital, the companies that came into existence to control the distribution have panicked and floundered. Decentralized peer-to-peer sharing made this all possible, but it's also thrown nearly a century of copyright law beyond the deep end and into rough waters.
Grooveshark's solution is to secure distribution rights from the copyright holders, but then to also reimburse those who upload content. Throw in free streaming and DRM-free downloads for 99 cents a song, garnish with community forums and outreach to independent musicians, serve with a side of cross-platform use that includes the Big Three of Windows, Mac, and multiple flavors of Linux, and we may be looking at the future of file sharing.
The newest element in the equation is where the uploader gets paid. Nathan Thompson of Grooveshark explained in the comments section of a Boing Boing post about his company that of all the money coming in for song purchasing, the music labels get a standard cut for dealing with online distributors, whether it's iTunes, Rhapsody, or Grooveshark. Of the money that stays with the online service, Grooveshark splits their profit, "50/50, with the users. The only people who are paying out of their pockets to the users are us."
So, just in case this is music to your ears, but you need to hear it again: Free streaming. Social networking. Music discovery. Oh, and reimbursement for sharing when somebody buys a song that you've uploaded to the collective. Bit rates are displayed, so if there are 20 versions of "Yellow Submarine" available, you can choose the quality that suits your player best. Even though uploads are restricted to those recorded at 128 kbps or higher, there's no extra charge for the higher-quality track. If you care about sound quality, you'll naturally choose the better rip--or so the theory goes.
To ensure that all this is legal, Grooveshark seems to have either retained the services of the world's feistiest team of lawyers, or it has entered into agreements with all the major music copyright holders. Or possibly, both. Either way, all indications are that this above-board and designed to take advantage of modern tech while not ignoring the right to reimbursement for the musician. Although it's hard not to wonder how much big-label musicians actually make off digital downloads when the cash first goes through their corporate label, that's a post for a different blog.
As you can tell from its Web site, Grooveshark includes all the major music discovery tools. There's a player in the upper-right corner, a centralized search bar, uncluttered tabs for keeping your friends and tunes organized, recommendations, tags, private messaging, rumored forthcoming applications for MySpace and Facebook, and the all-important account for watching your funds dwindle as you blow beaucoup de bucks on digital music, with nary a DRM corruption in sight.
Since the project is still in beta, registration requires sending a request for an invite and then waiting a day or two for a response. Once in, you download the file managing application called Sharkbyte, point it toward your music directory, upload your tunes, and you're good to go. There are other glitches, as befits a beta version, so don't go in expecting perfection and hosannas, but none of them seemed to affect playback, discovery, or purchase.
Since illegal and free downloading has been around for nearly a decade now, services like Grooveshark seem to be cropping up not to shove that fish back in the barrel, but instead to create a legal alternative where previously there had only been murky waters at best and legal Krakens at worst.
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