Spotify face $150 million lawsuit from songwriter over infringement and non payment issues

January 2016




A US recording artist has filed a US$150 million lawsuit against Spotify, alleging that the market leader in the streaming sector has knowingly reproduced his copyrighted songs – without permission or payment. David Lowery, best known for leading alternative rock bands Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven, has now asked a US judge to allow a class action suit on behalf of “hundreds of thousands” of potential plaintiffs he believes were similarly



The lawsuit, filed in the federal court in Los Angeles, accuses the streaming giant of ignoring mechanical rights. The singer-songwriter and musician’s rights advocate, who holds a degree in mathematics and is a lecturer at the University of Georgia, accused Spotify of copying and distributing compositions for its online service without permission or informing the copyright holders, listing four tracks from Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker that he said were used without his permission.


The lawsuit also alleged unfair business practices by Spotify saying that its payment structure was arbitrary and “depresses the value of royalties” overall: “Unless the court enjoins and restrains Spotify’s conduct, plaintiff and the class members will continue to endure great and irreparable harm that cannot be fully compensated or measured in monetary value alone,” the lawsuit said.
“Spotify has a business model in which they use artists’ music on their website without identifying the license holder and without paying them royalties,” said Mona Hanna, a lead attorney in the case. “This lawsuit seeks to hold Spotify accountable and protect the artists’ rights against copyright infringement.”
Hanna’s co-lead counsel, Sanford Michelman, said Spotify typically negotiates royalty amounts in advance with top artists who have the resources to defend their work, but is less diligent about tracking down the license holders of music by lesser-known or independent artists. “This is fundamentally wrong for the entire industry,” he said. “Spotify shouldn’t be playing ‘catch me if you can.’ (Lowery) has raised his hand and said ‘I’m going to stop this.” In October, Spotify was publicly criticised by indie record label Victory Records after its publishing operation, Another Victory, alleged that mechanicals for thousands of its songs remained unpaid by Spotify.


Spotify’s founder Daniel Ek said in June that the site has paid out more than US$3 billion in royalties and that streaming was the main growth area  for the recorded music industry.


The case highlights the ongoing issue of inaccurate data used to identify both songs and sound recordings meaning that even where services do pay, the money does not necessarily filter through to music publishers and record labels, songwriters and recording artistes. David Isrealite, CEO and President of The NMPA subsequently estimated that as much as 25% of royalties are not being paid to publishers by streaming services – or are being distributed incorrectly – due to metadata matching issues.


Justin Kalifowitz, CEO of Downtown Music Publishing, told the MBW Podcast earlier this month: “The record companies, on a weekly basis, upload thousands of new sound recordings that utilise underlying song copyrights without including the metadata of who the publisher and songwriter are. The amount of uncleared music that goes online is insane – even for big hits: “My guess is that Spotify is not pleased with songwriters complaining about low levels of payment… it’s inexcusable that it’s assumed less than 80% of [due money] is making its way to songwriters and publishers because of data issues.”
The lawsuit seeks a minimum US$150 million in damages. and

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