Controversial American music streaming service Grooveshark has undergone some drastic new changes, and while it doesn’t look like its going to legitimise the way it handles its unlicensed music, it has undergone a stylish new redesign and an intriguing new feature that will actually pay artists – and not labels – direct.

As Mashable reports, Grooveshark’s visual update – rolling out November 1st – includes adding album art to songs, new drag-and-drop functionality, further customisation to playlists and also borrowing ideas from the likes of Twitter and Spotify so that listeners can ‘follow’ their favourite artists and see what other users are listening to.

The basis of it’s ad-free, streaming radio format based on listening choices and the ability to upload music – all for free – much to the chagrin of the labels who have been hounding Grooveshark over their copyright licensing with multiple lawsuits during its five year existence.

Despite avoiding licensing fees to artists and their labels for a number of years, Grooveshark has managed to avoid being shutdown by abusing a loophole in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the overarching copyright legislation in the United States, that created a provision commonly called ‘safe harbor’.

Essentially the ‘safe harbor’ provisions of the DMCA removed online service providers, like Grooveshark and YouTube that allow users to upload content, from copyright liability as long as they adhered to prescribed guidelines and promptly block access or remove allegedly infringing material once receiving notification from the copyright holder or their agents.

Not only has Grooveshark been exploiting those guidelines, but several lawsuits also suggest that their own employees – and not the users – are the ones uploading the illegal music 

The new reincarnation of’ the self-described ‘world’s iPod’ has introduced an intriguing new feature that’s made the rules and regulations even more complicated by adding a service that, much like Rdio’s recently added “Artist Program”, will pay artists directly.

Unlike Rdio which pays artists for every subscriber they sign up for the service, Grooveshark’s new feature uses a social media aspect to ensure they earn some dollars.

Artists can now create their own profile pages on the streaming service, adding and removing their own tracks and communicating with fans, and partnering with Flattr, a social micropayment site, to integrate a feature where fans put money into an account and then ‘flattr’ – similar to a Facebook ‘like’ – as many artists as they’d like in a month.

The funds from that account are then divided up evenly among the designated artists who’ve been ‘flattrd,’ for instance, if you have $20 in a Flattr account and ‘flattr’ ten artists within the month, it will distribute $2 to each of those ten artists.

It could mean great things for independent artists and bands looking to network directly with fans, and find other ways of earning money from their music while gaining exposure, but it’s a move that’s certainly going to rile up the major labels with another form of income that they feel they should be getting a cut on through licensing.

If they weren’t already dead set on shutting down Grooveshark, the new Flattr payment scheme will only give them further incentive to unleash their legal forces.

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