Shazam App Lands Apple, Others in Legal Hot Water



One of the original “wow”-inspiring iPhone apps, music recognition software Shazam, is now responsible for some legal trouble for Apple (s aapl). Tune Hunter, a company that claims to hold the patent on the technology that Shazam uses, filed suit against the app’s developers, as well as Apple, Gracenote, Napster, (s amzn) and Samsung, among others. It’s actually almost easier to list major players in the electronics industry they didn’t file suit against.

The patent (no. 6,941,275, to be specific) describes “a music identification/purchasing system, specifically to a method for marking the time and the name of the radio station in portable device such as a key holder, watch, cellular phone, beeper or the like which will allow the user to learn via internet or regular telephone the name of the song, artist and/or music company by matching the stored data with broadcast archive.”

That description does indeed sound like Shazam’s functionality. If you’re not familiar with the app, it works by comparing an audio clip recorded via your iPhone’s microphone to an online music database, and then returning a song, artist and album name if it recognizes the track. Besides the iPhone version, there’s also one for Google (s goog) Android, RIM’s (s rimm) BlackBerry devices, and even web-based apps like Facebook. Oddly, those three companies somehow escaped being named in the suit, despite the iPhone’s inclusion.

Tune Hunter is looking for damages and an injunction against further infringement (which would basically halt the distribution of the Shazam app). What they most likely want, though, is a nice fat settlement from the combined coffers of the heavy hitters they cite in their suit.



@ Kennon & LoneGunman re: “it seems like a lot of copyright holders wait until an app, or infringing product becomes big and then sues the company.” — the worst example of this (that is, a company no longer operating as a value-creating business and instead ‘surviving’ via litigation) that comes to mind was SCO fka Santa Cruz Operation. Formerly a UNIX house that devolved into a litigation operation. Parasitically lamentable. Not exactly the kind of place I’d like to wake up to work for every day.


I was gonna say, the quoted abstract sounds a lot like something that came out a while ago that did just that…tagged music based on when and what station it played on which is nothing like what Shazam was doing.

That being said, it’s true that you get these stupid companies that just sit and wait to pounce on some person or company that’s succeeding at a logical invention. The patent system in this country is so broken it’s ridiculous. Instead of providing a way for inventors to bring their inventions to light and further the advancement of technology/processes/designs, it’s become a way for companies to lock out competitors from markets. Competition is the best way to advance markets (look at the automakers…it’s part of what’s killing them right now because they chose to sit on their asses while their competitors innovated).

Meh…but who’s going to fix it? And especially now, with the potential for the App Store…the potential of an indie app development industry that can bring stuff that people might not normally see because large, bloated corporations that answer to daily stock fluctuations would rather not waste time on…though they’d love to hold the patent on whatever it is you’re doing.


What drives me nuts is that it seems like a lot of copyright holders wait until an app, or infringing product becomes big and then sues the company. Should that company have checked to make sure they weren’t infringing copyrights? I still think it’s under handed to wait until the product becomes popular and then sue the offenders. I’m still unsure how Apple is responsible for Shazam’s infringement on their copyright.

Shawn Craver

Actually, the part of the patent that you quote describes a completely different method of identifying a song than Shazam uses. The part of the patent abstract you leave out does however describe the method that Shazam uses.

Comments are closed.