I am working on a language learning startup. I think that one of the best ways to study is through music. For that purpose I would like to include MP3s on the website, together with related study tools such as appropriate lyrics. Because I want to avoid dead links I would like to host the MP3s directly on my server and stream them to the users.
Doing this isn't exactly legal since everyone could download the MP3s. But what if, before accessing a specific song, I displayed a message asking "Do you legally own this song in CD/MP3/... format?" and only if the user clicks "yes" he is allowed to continue and listen. Isn't this how, for example, YouTube gets around legal problems?
Does anybody have insight on this?
"Isn't exactly legal" is an understatement: By copying, or allowing users to copy, the MP3 recordings to your site - not to mention reproducing the lyrics - you would be engaging, either directly or contributorily, in copyright infringement. Your proposed message would not change that fact.
Disclaimer: This information does not constitute legal advice and does not establish an attorney-client relationship.
First point, nobody on this site is going to give you a legal green light on doing this. This is not the place for legal advice, also this is not even borderline.
It is public information that Youtube had plenty of troubles with copyright so don't assume it was smooth for them and they were without problems. Their argument was that content is provided by users not themselves, you can't use this argument because you are providing the songs.
Also to point out the example provided by you is not how Youtube gets around copyright. To my knowledge they now have deals in place with copyright holders and when a song is identified then they deal with that song according to instructions from the record company, this could be placing advertising etc.
If you were to place copyright MP3s on your site you are definitely putting yourself at large risk and I wouldn't even consider starting a business based on that idea. You could find yourself having to compensate a record company for the number of downloads you are assumed to have created. This is not even semi-hidden like peer-to-peer and you will find this likely violates your hosting agreement.
One area that you could explore is having embedded Youtube videos, I don't know what Youtube's agreement says about this, but it is one option you could look at. You could also provide the songs lyrics in combination, but again, the lyrics are also copyright material.
If it were me and I was using it purely to educate and make the world a better place and just trying to make a little advertising money on the side I would try and look into find some free for commercial use songs. I know there are some sites that license modern music under creative commons license.