In the waning hours of 2017, Wixen Music Publishing filed what is destined to be a landmark lawsuit for the modern music. On Friday, the California based music publishing company filed an enormous lawsuit in the state’s federal court against Spotify, alleging that the Swedish streaming giant is using tens of thousands of songs by their clients–including the late Tom Petty, Neil Young, Tom Morello and Zach De La Rocha (Rage Against The Machine), Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys), Donald Fagen (Steely Dan), Rivers Cuomo (Weezer), Stevie Nicks, and more–without proper license and compensation to the music’s publisher. Wixen is seeking damages of “at least $1.6 billion plus injunctive relief,” according to the suit.
As The Hollywood Reporter explains, “Hopes are running high for the first significant reform of music licensing rules in decades. The coming year may also see Spotify go public. But before any of this happens, the Stockholm, Sweden-based streaming giant must now contend with a massive new copyright lawsuit.”
As the official complaint states, “Spotify brazenly disregards United States Copyright law and has committed willful, ongoing copyright infringement. Wixen notified Spotify that it had neither obtained a direct or compulsory mechanical license for the use of the Works. For these reasons and the foregoing, Wixen is entitled to the maximum statutory relief.” The complaint (read here) states that as much as 21% of the 30 million-plus songs on Spotify are unlicensed.In response to the suit, Spotify has questioned whether or not Wixen has been authorized by the high-profile clients named to take such aggressive action, which could delegitimize attempts at a class action claim.
Spotify has frequently dealt with backlash from musicians due to their sometimes comically-low artist payout rates. While the Wixen suit is the largest that’s been brought against Spotify, they have been fighting copyright-centered legal battles for years.”Last May, Spotify came to a proposed $43 million settlement to resolve a class action from songwriters led by David Lowery and Melissa Ferrick…not everyone was satisfied by the settlement, which must still be approved by a judge,” explains The Hollywood Reporter. “In July, Spotify was hit with two more lawsuits, including one from Bob Gaudio, a songwriter and founding member of the group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Like Lowery and Ferrick, the plaintiffs in these new cases asserted that Spotify hadn’t fully complied with obligations under Section 115 of the U.S. Copyright Act, which provides a compulsory license to make a mechanical reproduction of a musical composition, but only if a ‘notice of intention‘ is sent out and payments are made.”
All of this happens as lawmakers are beginning to turn their focus toward the legally murky waters of digital music rights. As THR explains, “In late December, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) introduced the Music Modernization Act, which among other things, would end the ‘notice of intent’ process that’s currently spelled out by Section 115. Instead, a database would publicly identify songs and potentially alleviate the way that digital services struggle to identify and locate co-authors of each of the tens of millions of copyrighted musical works. Under the proposal, digital services would fund a Mechanical Licensing Collective that would be granted blanket mechanical licenses. And rates would more closely hew to market value, with songwriters and publishers being granted audit rights.”
The new bill has earned widespread public support thanks to its bi-partisan backers as well as its endorsement by Digital Media Association, an organization that represents the biggest players in the tech world–including Spotify. While music publishing may not be a big priority for Congress at the moment, perhaps a multi-billion dollar lawsuit over a trove of classic music will catch their attention.
[h/t – The Hollywood Reporter]