“…for he who has paid the penalty of death stands absolved from his sin.”
The Bible, New Testament, Romans 6:7.
Over the weekend, Grooveshark co-founder Josh Greenberg was found dead at the age of 28, a tragic ending that truncated a lifetime of possibilities. People die everyday, it’s ironically part of life. You just hope they had a chance to live a full, rewarding existence when the moment arrives; to turn things around or grow upon successes. Greenberg didn’t get that chance.
That said, I’ll be brutally honest about my reaction to Greenberg’s death, and the ruthless manner with which I feel Greenberg, other Grooveshark executives, and Grooveshark investors and attorneys treated artists, their own employees, and Digital Music News itself. It’s not pretty, though I refuse to sugar-coat that legacy, now or in the future.
It wouldn’t be fair to the artists that Grooveshark duplicitously stiffed, the ruthless legal attack they waged against Digital Music News, and the direct orders Grooveshark superiors gave employees to infringe thousands of artists’ life works.
In death, we tend to lionize, to elevate and focus only on the positive aspects of a person’s life. But as a reporter and publisher that serves the music industry, not to mention a near-victim of Grooveshark’s ruthless business culture, I had a very difficult time doing that with Josh Greenberg. And part of the reason is that I fought tooth-and-nail for years, only with the assistance of great legal icon Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen, against a ridiculous and petty subpoena attempt that gave me insights into a pathological and ruthless Grooveshark culture.
What started as a bullying subpoena attempt in 2012 quickly devolved into something extremely ugly, with Grooveshark dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars on a bi-coastal, superstar legal team intent on forcing DMN to divulge confidential commenter information. Actually, we didn’t have anything to divulge, though we almost died proving that and trying to defend journalists’ rights.
Yes, Digital Music News was extremely close to having its entire server cluster frozen, and shut down, based on paralyzing costs related to searching every nook-and-cranny of our server cluster for the identity of an anonymous commenter. We ended up prevailing in California Appeals Court, but that required a reversal of a Superior Court decision that would have crippled us. As I later learned, that is actually a more common result in discovery and subpoenas than you might imagine, especially for companies with fewer resources. DMN would have died, even though we were ultimately right under the eyes of the law.
I couldn’t help but think that this was Grooveshark’s intent all along, and all because we wrote some honest, critical articles on a company that deserved it.
But people were screaming about this company long before that. Artists constantly shared stories with DMN of receiving zero royalties, yet guys like Greenberg and fellow co-founder Sam Tarantino always claimed they were paying royalties and obeying the DMCA. It was bullshit, and everyone knew it, yet Grooveshark somehow managed to bank juicy sponsorship deals with the likes of Mercedes, Chevrolet, and Netflix, just to name a few, while paying nothing to artists, labels, publishers, or anyone else in the creator food chain. They even hoodwinked indie organizations like Merlin into licensing their content, despite serious problems paying — and stiffing — artists that most desperately needed the cash.
By the time Grooveshark lost in their case against the major labels, discovery had shown us Grooveshark’s extremely ugly side. This was a ruthless culture, a professional theft operation with pathological intent.
Ironically, these guys were deleting damning files, though a subpoena of Grooveshark’s remaining internal emails revealed that top management had directly ordered underlings to illegally upload copyrighted work into the Grooveshark server tree. They had adamantly denied doing this throughout the trial, claiming protection from the DMCA and inability to take down infringing works fast enough.
They were lying to artists, screwing artists, while telling a totally different story to sponsors like Mercedes and Chevrolet (who smartly pulled out when they got wind).
And that includes Josh Greenberg, who co-founded the whole scam. Because that’s what Grooveshark was, a scam.
So did this guy kill himself? That was my first reaction, given that this happened to a seemingly-healthy twenty-something just weeks after Grooveshark was shut down, with all assets seized. Actually, that was everyone’s reasonable reaction, including writers at the Gainesville Sun, yet somehow, I spend hours defending my decision to discuss a very plausible supposition.
And no, I don’t think anyone should get a free pass on stuff like that, in life or in death. That’s just another cultural (and religious) norm that makes little sense, especially in a situation like this one. It goes against everything I stand for, and the very reason I started this publication.
Image by Elias Levy, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 (CC by 2.0).