Although Spotify is loved by millions of people around the world, giving us access to mass volumes of music at the touch of a button, it’s not as widely accepted by musicians. Taylor Swift famously pulled her albums from the service, but though her story was widely covered, she’s certainly not the only one; Prince, Thom Yorke, Beyonce, and Adele are just a few of the major musicians who have opted out of the immensely popular music streaming service. And now, Spotify is facing a class-action lawsuit alleging that it violates copyrights of independent musicians.
The lawsuit was filed on Monday by band member of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven and musicians’ rights advocate David Lowery, who claims that Spotify has been streaming his band’s music without permission, without licenses, and without adequate payment.
“Spotify has — and continues to — unlawfully reproduce and/or distribute copyrighted musical compositions. . . to more than 75 million users via its interactive commercial music streaming service,” the lawsuit read, according to Washington Post. “. . . Indeed, Spotify has publicly admitted its failures to obtain licenses for the musical works it distributes or reproduces or to pay royalties to copyright owners for its use of their Works.”
Although the lawsuit claims that it’s impossible to calculate just how much Spotify owes, it’s starting with $150 million. “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 read.
According to The Verge, the streaming company “seems to understand” that some of its actions infringe on copyright (after all, it did admit to having a problem paying artists in a blog post just last week), but has released a statement that it set aside a fund of $17 to $25 million intended to pay royalties to artists who have not yet been compensated. Said Spotify’s global head of communications Jonathan Prince in a statement to The Verge:
However, Lowery claims that the company is missing the point. “The point is not that they didn’t set aside royalties; the point is that they never got the licenses in the first place,” Lowery told NPR. “There appears to be no licenses on my songs and a great number of songwriters’ songs. Setting aside the royalty, what is that royalty based on? There’s no license.”
On top of this, Spotify’s statement is problematic in itself, according to Lowery’s lawyer, Sanford Michelman, because payment has to happen before Spotify allows playback. “It’s like saying, ‘We know we’ve taken these people’s work, we’ve never made an attempt to find them, but we know we’re playing something without the proper license,” Michelman told CNN.
Lowery has been known for spearheading musicians’ rights in the digital age for years, especially since 2012, when he wrote a response to NPR intern Emily White who had written a piece questioning the importance of purchasing music:
However, Lowery had the perfect response. “You have grown up in a time when technological and commercial interests are attempting to change our principles and morality,” he wrote. “Rather than using our morality and principles to guide us through technological change, there are those asking us to change our morality and principles to fit the technological change — if a machine can do something, it ought to be done.”
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