Spotify has been held up as the saviour of the recorded music business in its home market of Sweden, almost singlehandedly turning round years of decline and pushing the country back into significant growth (it leapt 14% in value last year and streaming now makes up over 70% of all recorded music income there). Now, however, artists are suing at least two labels – Universal Music and Warner Music – over what cut they get of this growing revenue source.
Swedish Musicians’ Union lawyer Per Herrey has stated that a number of local musicians (none of whom he is prepared, for now, to name) are pushing for a higher split of streaming royalties and have threated to pull their music from streaming services if their demands are not met.
Speaking to Sveriges Radio, Herrey sent a warning to labels about acts possibly pulling their catalogues. “Then you can start from scratch and start negotiating from there and then see where it lands,” he cautioned. (Quote based on Google Translate.)
Spotify has been the subject of multiple stinging artist attacks from the likes of Thom Yorke and David Byrne in recent weeks over its payment rates. To an extent, it has been out on its own here (treated at a metonym for all streaming services) and carrying the can for labels even though it has no sway in what labels ultimately pay through to their artists. Some independent labels, notably Beggars Group, have gone public and said they treat streaming as akin to radio and therefore split income with artists 50/50. The majors, in contrast, have not made their splits public and this has led to accusations of obfuscation in their accounting.
Interestingly, this artist action coincides with Swedish collection society Stim finally signing a deal with YouTube after five years of negotiations. The Guardian notes that the deal terms are protected by NDAs but “if YouTube’s US deals are anything to go by will pay a lot less than Spotify per stream”.
When asked recently about the musician attacks on the service, co-founder Daniel Ek pointed to the positive transformation in the Scandinavian markets and suggested that artist criticisms of this model there had all but evaporated. Those words now seem somewhat premature. The company is also facing down legal threats from Ministry Of Sound in the UK over its compilations being replicated by user playlists on the service.
If there is a positive in this legal action in Sweden it is that it will hopefully move the argument forward to be about streaming as a whole rather than just what one (admittedly market-leading) service pays out to rightsholders. While Spotify is the most high-profile service, if streaming is to be the future of the recorded music business then everyone – services, publishers, labels and artists – need to be included in the debate.