Spotify hit with two new lawsuits alleging copyright infringement

Posted:
in General Discussion edited July 2017
In spite of efforts to rectify past indiscretions against artists and music publishers, Spotify is once again embroiled in legal trouble for allegedly streaming music without proper licensing.


Spotify co-founder and CEO Daniel Ek. | Source: Spotify


The world's largest streaming service was on Tuesday saddled with two lawsuits relating to licensing deals, or more specifically the lack thereof, with songwriters and publishers, The Tennessean reports. Together, the pair of suits filed in Nashville, Tenn., cover thousands of songs that were streamed on Spotify's platform.

Bluewater Music Services, which manages publishing rights for a number of bands including Miranda Lambert, Willie Nelson, Kenny Chesney and Guns 'N Roses, is the plaintiff in one suit. Songs by those same artists are at issue in the case. The other lawsuit is being brought against Spotify by Bob Gaudio, publisher and songwriter for the band Franki Valli and the Four Seasons.

Both publishers are being represented by Richard Busch, a prominent copyright lawyer who notably represented the family of Marvin Gaye in its successful case against the Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams collaboration "Blurred Lines," which borrowed heavily from Gaye's "Got to Give it Up."

Like past lawsuits against Spotify and other streaming services, the company is accused of failing to obtain compulsory licenses under Section 115 of the U.S. Copyright Act. Under current law, streaming firms like Spotify are not required to negotiate royalty deals with publishers, but they must issue a notice of intention to obtain a compulsory license. These notices can also be posted with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Spotify has in the past been taken to task over seemingly inadequate steps to notify rights holders that it will be adding their songs to streaming playlists.

In 2015, the company was hit with a class action suit for failing to pay licensing fees. Spotify agreed to pay a $43.4 million settlement in that case, though publishers have the right to opt out and file their own complaints by September. More recently, Spotify reached a $30 million settlement with the National Music Publishers Association over unpaid royalties.

Those settlements were unfairly low, Busch said in the recent lawsuits. Further, members of the NMPA, including the parent companies of Universal, Sony and Warner, own a combined 18 percent of Spotify, the report said. The stake is important as Spotify is expected to go public in the near future.

"As we say in the Complaint, songwriters and publishers should not have to work this hard to get paid, or have their life work properly licensed, and companies should not be allowed to build businesses on the concept of infringe now and ask questions later," Busch said after filing the lawsuits. "We look forward to litigating these cases."

For its part, the streaming music leader has consistently argued that a lack of sufficient ownership metadata makes it difficult to pay out licensing fees to the proper parties. In a bid to assist in the identification process and hopefully stem a rising tide of lawsuits, Spotify in April purchased Mediachain Labs. The startup developed technology for registering, identifying, tracking and managing creative works across the internet.

The pair of lawsuits filed today seek a maximum $150,000 damages award for each infringed work. Bluewater's suit alleges infringement of 2,339 songs, while Gaudio claims 106 songs were posted to Spotify without proper licensing.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 9
    lolliverlolliver Posts: 429member
      For its part, the streaming music leader has consistently argued that a lack of sufficient ownership metadata makes it difficult to pay out licensing fees to the proper parties.
    I'm sure working out who the rights holders are for obscure artists like Miranda Lambert, Willie Nelson, Kenny Chesney and Guns 'N Roses is a very difficult task.  /s
    watto_cobra[Deleted User]mdriftmeyerjony0
  • Reply 2 of 9
    foggyhillfoggyhill Posts: 4,767member
    If you don't know who the hell it belongs too, well frack, don't use it; simple isn't it.
    watto_cobrajbdragonzoetmb
  • Reply 3 of 9
    foggyhill said:
    If you don't know who the hell it belongs too, well frack, don't use it; simple isn't it.
    Which translates (from English to Spotify) as, Ohhhhhh that's too hard so lets stream everything and enjoy the income. Let them sue that way we can find out who to ask for permission.
  • Reply 4 of 9
    surely, they would "obtain" the music files FROM the person(s) they must pay? i.e. Label A will provide them with the mp3/flac/whatever files for the bands they represent and so on. 

    Did they just get the mp3s from piratebay or something?  :s
  • Reply 5 of 9
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,456member
    Before one gets all tingly about Spotify being sued just remember that ALL big companies get sued ALL the time. Apple gets sued almost daily. As a competitor to Apple Music, Spotify’s troubles shouldn’t evoke any schadenfreude just yet.
    muthuk_vanalingamjbdragon
  • Reply 6 of 9
    jbdragonjbdragon Posts: 2,246member
    Poor Spotify, can't catch a break. Spotify since day 1 has been in the Red and after all these years, has still failed to make a profit. In fact they lose more and more money every single year. The more people that sign up, the more they lose. All the free users just aren't helping them, but they're stuck with that at this point. It's pretty hard to make money streaming music. AM/FM Radio, you didn't pay to play the music., It's free advertising so people would buy your CD and/or go to your concert. Yet for streaming, you have to pay out, and it's not cheap. A big chunk of the money pays that artists, and everything that's left pays for all the back end stuff, from servers, to internet service capacity to all your subscribers, to the App's to use it and all the employee's. Then the artists complain that they don't get enough money and want even more. Which is of course different then not being paid at all. How much longer can Spotify keep flushing money down the bottomless pit? It's been what, 8 years and they can't turn a profit? #1 Music Streaming and can't make a profit? Who keeps giving them money? https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2017/02/02/spotify-bankrupt-ipo/
  • Reply 7 of 9
    zoetmbzoetmb Posts: 2,584member
    adm1 said:
    surely, they would "obtain" the music files FROM the person(s) they must pay? i.e. Label A will provide them with the mp3/flac/whatever files for the bands they represent and so on. 

    Did they just get the mp3s from piratebay or something?  :s
    No.  There are two rights:  the publishing right (for the composers of the song) and the performance right (from whoever owns the performance - either the artist or the record company).   

    So even if they got the file or CD from the record company, they still have to find and pay the publisher.   And sometimes, music publishers, especially the smaller ones like those setup by a composer for their own works use an administrative publisher to collect royalties.   So it does get complicated.

    In addition, there are the performing arts societies:  ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.   Usually, a company would go through them for publishing rights.   And then since it's streaming, under the DCMA, they have to make a deal with Sound Exchange.   

    This is in no way defending Spotify - they shouldn't be using any music they haven't licensed, but music copyright is a freaking mess and although the Copyright Board has made some proposals to modernize it, my view is that the proposals make it worse and Congress has shown no interest in updating the law anyway.  

    One note:  In the U.S., over-the-air broadcast radio pays publishing rights via ASCAP, BMI and SESAC, but they don't pay performance rights.   There has been a push for years to get them to do so, but with radio in decline, that's not going to happen.  But if they stream, they do have to pay Sound  Exchange and that can get quite expensive because it's based upon how many concurrent streams there are.   
  • Reply 8 of 9
    zoetmbzoetmb Posts: 2,584member

    jbdragon said:
    AM/FM Radio, you didn't pay to play the music., It's free advertising so people would buy your CD and/or go to your concert. 
    They don't pay performance rights, but they do pay for publishing rights via ASCAP, BMI or SESAC.   

    The reason why U.S. over-the-air radio doesn't pay performance rights goes back to the days of live radio.  The performers would get paid when they appeared, but it wasn't necessarily known who wrote the songs, so the performing rights societies came into being: ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.   

    When live performance moved to television beginning in 1948 and radio went to playing records, since radio promoted records, as you wrote, the labels didn't fight for radio to pay performance rights.   But with the tight playlisted, little talk formats of today, with radio and the record industry in decline, radio doesn't really sell records anymore.  So they should be paying performance rights, but Congress is not going to force them to do so.   
  • Reply 9 of 9
    command_fcommand_f Posts: 345member
    foggyhill said:
    If you don't know who the hell it belongs too, well frack, don't use it; simple isn't it.
    That was my immediate thought too - absolutely right.

    However, I think the music industry is repeatedly poor at selling its product (which doesn't make it acceptable not to pay); if someone like Spotify would like to buy, why not make it easy?

    When Apple was first building the iTunes Store, a meeting of music company bosses allegedly asked Steve Jobs why they needed Apple to do this. Jobs reply "Because if you did it, you'd just f**k it up". Sounds like Jobs, sounds like nothing has changed.
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