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Dog-piled in lawsuits, Grooveshark may be treading murky water in the near future.

Grooveshark is another popular social music site, like SoundCloud. Where SoundCloud is focused on users uploading their original content, Grooveshark users upload content they own, and then anyone else on the site can stream it. When I first heard about the site a few years ago, I couldn’t understand how it had survived this long. The legality of the whole idea seemed strongly in question. I was unfamiliar with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, passed in the late ‘90s, which includes a provision called Title II: Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act.

The language of the act allows online service providers (OSPs) like Grooveshark and YouTube some protection against what their users upload. So, when a user uploads copyrighted material, Title II gives OSPs time to be notified by the copyright holder and then remove the hosted content before legal action can be taken. From this section of the legislation, Grooveshark claims it’s always been legal, but without having individual licensing deals with record companies, like Pandora.

For two years that’s how Grooveshark dodged any major bullets (i.e. lawsuits from the four major record label companies EMI, Sony, Universal, and Warner). In 2009, EMI brought a lawsuit against Escape Media Group (Grooveshark’s parent company) specifically about Grooveshark users uploading copyrighted content from EMI signed artists, and Grooveshark not taking content down quickly enough. However, Grooveshark settled that lawsuit and entered into a licensing deal with the company. Their licensing fees are paid for through on-site ads and premium accounts that provide bonus features for paying customers.

This isn’t Grooveshark’s first brush with the law in 2011. A few months ago in November, Universal Music Group (UMG) filed their own lawsuit against Grooveshark when it discovered that multiple Grooveshark administrators had, as UMG claimed, in total uploaded 100,000 copyrighted songs onto the website. UMG wasn’t just seeking the songs removed from the site and payment for damages ($150,000 per song), they were hoping to get Grooveshark shut down entirely via a permanent injunction within the lawsuit.

So how’d UMG get Grooveshark’s emails? They were allowed to look at all of Grooveshark’s databases pertaining to user uploads after a previous lawsuit they filed last year against the company. While perusing the upload information, they found out that CEO of Grooveshark Samuel Tarantino had uploaded 1,791 copyrighted songs. And he was one of the mildest offenders out of the top executives that uploaded. Other vice presidents of the company uploaded over 3,000 songs.

Jumping on the lawsuit train, Sony and Warner filed a lawsuit against Grooveshark last month, allegedly along the same lines of UMG’s complaints. The music sharing company has always maintained that it is protected through the DCMA and has done nothing wrong, and will fight all allegations brought against them.

But, it looks like it might be the end of the line for Grooveshark. As of last Wednesday. EMI filed yet another lawsuit claiming that Grooveshark didn’t pay the royalties they’ve owed them since the licensing deal they signed in 2009. EMI estimates they’re out $150,000 but doesn’t mention specifics in their lawsuit, since they also report that Grooveshark hasn’t given them any accounting for what the company has earned off of ads from users listening to EMI music.

Grooveshark responded that it doesn’t expect the dispute to last and that everything will be resolved without incident. But, as if they weren’t in enough trouble here in the U.S., in the midst of all of these lawsuits at home, a Danish anti-piracy organization went through the courts to try and get the website blocked in Denmark. Any way you look at it, Grooveshark has always been in a hazy area of lawful music sharing.

As music-loving Internet users, how do we keep ourselves safe from being on the wrong side of the law? By using cloud-based music services (or even hosting your own cloud server) that only you have access to keeps your music listening well within your rights and gives you the ease of access to your music library that has become expected in today’s cloud powered world.