Operating a mixtape site is not without risk. By definition, mixes include multiple sound recordings that are often protected by copyright.
Popular hip-hop mixtape site and app Spinrilla, which has millions of users, is well aware of these risks. In 2017, the company was sued by several record labels, backed by the RIAA, which accused the company of massive copyright infringement.
“Spinrilla specializes in ripping off music creators by offering thousands of unlicensed sound recordings for free,” the RIAA commented at the time.
Spinrilla Fought Piracy Accusations
The hip-hop site countered the allegations by pointing out that it had installed an RIAA-approved anti-piracy filter and actively worked with major record labels to promote their tracks. In addition, Spinrilla stressed that the DMCA’s safe harbor provision protects the company.
As the case progressed, both parties filed motions for summary judgment. The music companies requested rulings to establish, before trial, that Spinrilla is liable for direct copyright infringement and that the DMCA safe harbor doesn’t apply.
Spinrilla countered with cross-motions, filed under seal, in which they argued the opposite. Judge Amy Totenberg eventually sided with the record labels in 2020, concluding that the mixtape site is indeed liable.
Millions in Potential Damages
In her ruling, Judge Totenberg concluded that 4,082 copyrighted sound recordings were streamed, at least once, through Sprinrilla’s website or app.
The scale of the damages will be decided at trial and after several delays, the jury is currently set to gather in a few weeks. With thousands of copyrights at stake, damages could potentially exceed $600 million if the jury finds that the infringement was willful.
With the stakes this high, both sides will do their best to present their most favorable arguments. That also means efforts to prevent witnesses, evidence, and even specific words being presented to the court.
These requests come in the form of ‘motions in limine’ where the parties ask the court to keep certain information from the jury. Several of these motions were submitted to court over the past few days.
Piracy and Theft
According to recent filings, Spinrilla is particularly concerned over potential piracy stigma. The company notes that the music industry has spent years painting a picture of being under siege by “pirates,” “thieves” and “trespassers”.
This type of rhetoric might make the jury more likely to see Spinrilla’s activities as willful, which could increase the damages award. This should be prevented by banning these disparaging terms at trial, the platform says.
“Defendants anticipate that Plaintiffs will continue to refer to piracy and pirates so that the jury will be predisposed to find the Defendants acted willfully,” Spinrilla writes.
“These terms are not evidentiary, have no probative value, and are highly inflammatory such that they will create undue prejudice. Accordingly, the Court should bar Plaintiffs from referring to Defendants as ‘pirates’ or having engaged in ‘piracy’ or ‘theft’ other similarly disparaging words.”
‘Piracy History is Irrelevant’
In a separate motion, Spinrilla asks the court to bar the music companies from discussing the history of online piracy. Piracy may have hurt the music industry’s revenues over the years but that shouldn’t impact an appropriate award for damages, the mixtape service says.
“Spinrilla is not liable for the entirety of online piracy that started with Napster. Nor can Spinrilla be required to pay statutory damages that are calculated based on the injury to record labels by companies that operated years before Spinrilla was formed.”
According to Spinrilla, the music companies want to discuss historical piracy issues because that would increase the chances of a higher award for damages.
“The evidence is not tethered to the facts of this case. Rather, it is designed to brand into the brains of the jurors, that Defendants should be punished for the cumulative effects of infringement that Defendants had no hand in creating,” Spinrilla argues.
Record Labels Want Financials Excluded
The above is just a selection of the motions submitted by Spinrilla. At the same time, the music companies are fighting equally hard for the court to keep specific information from the jury.
According to one of the filings, Spinrilla included over 2,000 pages of consolidated financial reports for Universal Music Group, Sony Corporation, and Warner Music Group, the plaintiffs’ parent corporations.
These financial documents are misleading, according to the music companies, as they also include revenue from entirely unrelated businesses such as semiconductors, batteries, and film revenues.
The plaintiffs believe that this information could be used to create a misleading and prejudicial impression of their financial resources, which has no relevance to the damages calculation.
“Overwhelming the jury with voluminous combined financial statements of Plaintiffs’ parent corporations would confuse the jury, who would be left to wonder about the relevance of this information in calculating the amount of statutory damages they should award.
“The simple and undeniable fact is that this information has absolutely no relevance to that calculation,” the music companies add.
All in all, it is clear that both sides are trying to establish the best possible base before presenting their arguments to the jury. At the time of writing the court has yet to rule on these motions ahead of a trial scheduled to start next month.
Spinrilla’s cited motions in limine are available here (1,2 pdf) and the music companyies’ motion can be found here (pdf)