An app found a clever way to share Spotify and Apple Music streams, without getting sued

Play it loud.
Play it loud.
Image: Reuters/Petr Josek
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An app called Vertigo promises the seemingly impossible: Stream music from Spotify Premium or Apple Music to your friends for free, without getting sued by record labels. Each “live” sharing session between a Vertigo “host” and her listeners can also be accompanied by a stream of text messages and live video.

Vertigo achieves this by imposing an important caveat, and employing a clever playback mechanism. The caveat is that listeners have to be paying subscribers of the two streaming services. The mechanism is that the app creates the impression of a live broadcast, but never actually transfers any music between a host and her listeners.

Instead of a live stream of music, which could trigger copyright problems, Vertigo shares a song’s metadata—such as time markers and a song’s identifier within Spotify or Apple Music’s databases—between a host and listeners. Each listener then plays the music back locally, on her own device, using her own Spotify Premium or Apple Music account. There is less than half a second’s lag between the host and a listener, Vertigo says.

Vertigo’s playback mechanism stays onside with the legal concept of ”a new public.” According to Iain Connor, a partner at law firm Pinsent Masons in London, the key question around copyright infringement is whether a piece of music has been communicated to a new public, or a new set of people who otherwise would not have heard the music. “Arguably, if someone has already signed up and is paying for Spotify Premium, then a new public might not emerge. It might be the same public already in Spotify Premium,” Connor said.

The result is an application that stays within the bounds of copyright law, potentially boosts the number of listens and thus royalty payouts to artists and labels, and offers a novel social feature to the powerful streaming platforms.

As MacWorld points out, apps like Vertigo could be a boon to streaming platforms like Apple Music—which Vertigo integrated with two days ago—that lag Spotify on social sharing features. Vertigo is free and its chief executive Greg Leekley won’t say how it plans to make money in future.