Judge Tosses EMI’s Case Against Seeqpod Founders

UPDATE: A U.S. District Court judge has thrown out a complaint by record label EMI against the founders of now-defunct music search engine Seeqpod, effectively ending a year-old case that attracted special attention because it also named as a defendant a developer who had used the company’s application programming interface (API). Earlier this week, Judge Laura Taylor Swain granted Seeqpod’s founders’ motion to dismiss the case against them, citing a lack of personal jurisdiction in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York.

In the suit, EMI had alleged copyright infringement by Seeqpod CEO Kasian Franks, two co-founding investors and Favtape developer Ryan Sit, who had built a playlist-sharing service on Seeqpod’s existing service using its API. The suit differed from a 2008 Warner Music Group (s wmg) claim against Seeqpod in that EMI’s complaint held individual people liable as well as their companies, specifically for providing links to unlawfully shared songs wherever they might lie on the web. This week’s dismissal resolves the case against the Seeqpod founders, who were defended by law firm Duane Morris; Sit was directed by the judge to appear at a future pre-trial conference, but without a successful claim against Seeqpod, the chances of a judgment against an API user appear quite slim. Update: I have learned that co-defendant Ryan Sit has reached a settlement with EMI. Apart from a few final formalities, the case appears over.

Warner Music’s original case against Seeqpod was regarded as potentially precedent-setting in that it would have tested how the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act applied to search engines. But when Seeqpod was driven into bankruptcy last year, the labels’ cases against the startup were steered into legal limbo, where no judgment could be made against the company. (It’s now undergoing an asset sale to an unnamed Japanese media company, and Franks has moved on to other projects.) That didn’t end EMI’s personal cases against its founders, though, which carried on until this week. And while the potential still exists for EMI to pursue California-based Seeqpod’s founders individually in another jurisdiction, EMI likely had its best shot in New York, so it’s unlikely to take further steps against them.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub req’d):

Will Automated Rights Management Take Down Fair Use?