(Josh Greenberg) had violated the tenets of intellectual property law, of course, but there was precedent for that. Nullsoft’s Justin Frankel had coded Winamp without licensing the underlying mp3 technology; YouTube’s Steve Chen and Chad Hurley had looked the other way as users had uploaded thousands of infringing videos; Napster’s Shawn Fanning had acted as if the entire concept of copyright was obsolete. Greenberg resembled them. He was a scion of middle-class America; he’d attended a state school; he was young, and male, and comfortable with the internet’s culture of appropriation. The template was to move fast and to break things, and to let the lawyers figure out the repercussions once you’d earned your millions.
If Grooveshark had debuted in 2003, or maybe even 2005, he might have gotten away with it. Like a claim-jumper in the 19th century, Grooveshark could perhaps have emerged from the era of digital lawlessness with enough leverage to force the music companies to the negotiating table, and borrowed enough expertise from the venture capitalists to become a functional business. With a little luck, the company might have outmaneuvered Spotify, and Greenberg would have been a business icon.
I had a link to this month-old article hidden in one of my recent posts, but I think it deserves its own place as it’s well worth a read. The author shapes his piece as more of a commentary on changes in the Internet / entrepreneur industry – he believes the days of the budding teenage tech billionaire have passsed – but, of course, it’s all intertwined with developments in the music industry. The required move over the past decade from ‘digital lawlessness’ to legitimacy enlightens a bit about SoundCloud’s recent troubles, as well as how smart Spotify has been from the outset. The article also reminds me how it’s a deep shame that we won’t get to see what Josh Greenberg will come up with next as there was some seriously brilliant idea-making behind Grooveshark.