Spotify and the importance of Licences

Written by Briffa | January 19, 2018

IP Contracts

Spotify has been at the forefront of providing a new way to instantly listen to (or rather stream) new songs released by your favourite artists and its model of providing free streaming services with adverts (which cannot be listened to offline) or monthly subscription streaming services (which do not have adverts and can be listened to offline) seems to help discourage the downloading/streaming of music without the permission of copyright holders. However, the 2008 streaming start-up has faced issues in the past with some artists (e.g. Taylor Swift removed her songs from Spotify for almost three years) and other copyright holders who have argued for more of a share from the songs that they provide and who have been unhappy with songs being available to stream for free. On 29 December 2017, Wixen Music Publishing Inc. reportedly filed a legal claim in California against Spotify for Spotify’s alleged use of some its songs (e.g. songs of Tom Petty, the Doors and Neil Young) without the appropriate licence and sought damages of around $1.6 billion and an injunction to prevent the use of the songs.

Licensing of Copyright (from a UK and EU law point of view)

The owner of a copyright work has the exclusive right to do various acts in relation to its copyright work (e.g. to copy the work, issue copies of the work, communicate the work to the public, etc.) and it infringes the owner’s copyright to do any of these acts (or authorise others to) without the copyright owner’s permission. One of the ways to obtain such permission is to obtain a licence from the copyright holder and a licence should clarify exactly which rights are being granted, what type of licence is being granted (sole, exclusive or non-exclusive), which territories the licence applies to, how payment works, how long the licence lasts for and how the licence can be terminated. Wixen Music Publishing Inc. is reportedly claiming that Spotify did not have a licence to use its songs and, therefore, was in breach of the copyright that Wixen Music Publishing owns in the songs.

It should be noted that it is possible for there to be many different forms of copyright subsisting in one work. For example, for a song, there could be copyright in:

  • the written lyrics of the song;
  • any written script of a music video;
  • the actual music;
  • the recording of the song and the film of any music video;
  • graphical works on the album.

Therefore, it is possible that a work (e.g. a song) may have many different individuals/companies owning rights in it. This means that it is important to check that your licence grants you permission from all of the relevant copyright holders and includes all of the uses that you would make of the work. Obtaining the rights to songs is made slightly easier by organisations such as the Performing Rights Society (PRS). The PRS allows members to transfer IP rights in the performance or playing of their works in public (e.g. on the radio, on TV, in films, in adverts, through streaming) and the PRS then collect royalties on the copyright holders’ behalf.  If you would like advice or further information on copyright and licensing please do not hesitate to contact Briffa.

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