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Online Streaming: What Makes a Customer?

By John DiGiacomo

Music-streaming services allow their subscribers to rent music through the Internet rather than purchase albums. Services such as Apple Music and Tidal charge a membership fee and often have exclusive music deals with certain artists. Other services, like Pandora and Spotify, allow users to subscribe for free and listen to music with occasional advertisements. Despite the free subscription, some consumers pay for commercial-free streaming, even though they aren’t able to download the music.

Pandora, in particular, allows subscribers to create playlists based on a musical genre or specific artist. However, users may not select specific songs. Rather, Pandora streams music and the listener can indicate whether they like or dislike each individual song that plays. Based on the listener’s selections, Pandora modifies the playlist to suit the listener’s preference.

Do Music Subscribers Have Privacy Rights?

Under the Preservation of Personal Privacy Act (PPPA), a person involved in the business of selling, renting, or lending sound recordings may not release information that indicates the customer’s identity. This includes the customer’s purchase, lease, rental, or borrowing of those recordings.

In 2011, Peter Deacon sued Pandora. He claimed that it violated the PPPA when it made his profile page available to the public and integrated the profile with his Facebook account. Deacon stated that because the profile included information about his music preferences, it violated his personal privacy. However, only a customer may claim a violation under the PPPA. Further, the act defines a customer as a person who purchases, rents, or borrows. The Court held that Deacon was not a customer, despite his use of Pandora for free music streaming, because both renting and borrowing often require an exchange of payment. Therefore, Deacon needed to have a paid subscription to claim a violation of the PPPA.

Internet-based services are becoming more widespread in today’s society. Consumers should be aware of how those services my affect their privacy. Chief Justice Young noted that Deacon’s case required applying a rarely used statute to new technology that did not exist at the time the statute was created, which brings up the question of whether this statute, among other privacy laws, should be amended to protect the users of internet-based technology.

For more information about privacy, contact Revision Legal’s team of experienced internet attorneys through the form on this page or call 855-473-8474.


Image courtesy of Flickr user g4ll4is

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