Amoeba's Vinyl Vault: Treasure Trove or Legal Sticky Wicket?
|Interior of SF Amoeba|
None of this seems to sit well with Sevier and the Numero Group. "People are very cagey in this day and age because there's so many scams. It's an uphill battle to license this stuff. That's the shortcut they're taking" by digitally recording works even when they can't find the copyright holder. "Regardless of legalities and moral issues, my problem is they're making it harder for us. They're adding to the noise of bootlegging and distrust that's already out there. They're making it hard to do something that's quality and legitimate," he says.
Henderson feels differently about Amoeba's approach. "The core of who we are is ultimate appreciators of music, artists and the medium. This isn't something that's being tossed out there without thought, respect or regard for people's works. That is the goal, a push to get this stuff recognized," he says.
Amoeba spent an astounding six years and made an estimated $11 million investment in Vinyl Vaults before going online in 2012.
Professor Post thinks this might be a calculated move on their part. "They should have legal preparedness and I'm sure they know this is coming," he says.
If challenged in court, Amoeba has a decent shot at walking away unscathed. Copyright laws give judges in cases like this an enormous amount of discretion. If Amoeba instantly removes the unlicensed mp3s when requested by the copyright holder, as the store claims it will, and turns over all the escrow profits, a judge could possibly see this as a public service and not award much in damages, or even none at all.
There's no doubt that the Vinyl Vaults could serve as a musical ark or sorts. Attempting to archive rarely-heard records for generations to come could be a truly noble endeavor by a much-heralded music store. Let's just hope it's legal.