The company is suing Spotify for copyright infringement, claiming that the service has refused to remove user playlists that mirror Ministry of Sound compilation albums, including some that use the brand’s name in their titles.
“It’s been incredibly frustrating: we think it’s been very clear what we’re arguing, but there has been a brick wall from Spotify,” CEO Lohan Presencer tells The Guardian.
Proceedings have been launched in the UK High Court for a case that could set a fascinating precedent for whether the curation of a compilation is as copyrightable as the songs contained within it – a key issue in the age of shareable streaming-music playlists.
“Everyone is talking about curation, but curation has been the cornerstone of our business for the last 20 years,” says Presencer. “If we don’t step up and take some action against a service and users that are dismissing our curation skills as just a list, that opens up the floodgates to anybody who wants to copy what a curator is doing.”
The lawsuit – which Spotify has declined to comment on – raises wider questions about the role of compilations (and the companies that curate them) in the coming years.
Ministry says digital sales of its compilations are up 30% this year, and elsewhere the NOW! series is selling like hot cakes around the world. Yet while NOW! has partnered with Spotify on an app, Ministry of Sound has opted against a similar strategy, and has also withheld the tracks signed to its label division.
We suspect the ideal outcome for both parties in this case would be finding common ground for a partnership. But that would have to involve some way for Ministry of Sound – which licenses in the majority of tracks for its compilations from other labels – to be able to make money from curation in (for example) a Spotify app rather than from owning rights to the actual tracks.
That’s not currently possible, but it’s not a huge leap to imagine some combination of advertising revenue-share for free users and recurring commission for paying subscribers attracted to Spotify by such an app could work in the future – IF the bad blood (and now the lawsuit) between the two companies isn’t too big a barrier.
That’s a big ‘if’ though: in a separate opinion piece, Presencer doesn’t hold back in his views on Spotify, including a pointed reference to recent criticism by Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich, and pitching his own company as the underdog standing up to Spotify.
“This so-called saviour of the industry and enemy of the pirates is allowing our compilations to be used without permission and refusing to take action when told about the problem,” he writes.
This is a David vs Goliath battle, but one which we have no choice in fighting. If we roll over and don’t protect our rights, then we open the floodgates to others. We will not let that happen. It is time that Spotify’s actions are held to account.”
IF the case goes to the High Court and IF Ministry of Sound wins, the implications will be fascinating. And possibly a double-edged sword too: if a compilation’s structure can be copyrighted, does that also apply to a Spotify playlist? And if so, does that mean potential for lawsuits in the future if a compilation album’s tracklisting strays too close to someone’s streaming playlist?
Lots of implications, in other words. Watch this one closely.