Photo: Jeanette Andersson

Sweden may be the home of streaming music, but there’s a fascinating legal dispute afoot that will be followed closely by artists elsewhere in the world. It concerns “punk icon” Johan Johansson, who has successfully sued record label MNW (formerly Musiknätet Waxholm) to stop it releasing his music on Spotify. A district court has ruled against MNW in the case, which may open the way for other artists to take similar action.

As Swedish news site ETC explained, Johansson had the backing of the Swedish musicians’ union for his lawsuit, which claimed that while MNW owned the recordings of his former bands KSMB and John Lenin, it does not have the rights to distribute them through on-demand services like Spotify. “We have to hope that it sets a standard that companies must not exploit the rights anyway without a contract,” Johansson told ETC.

“It shows there has not been an agreement on streaming when it comes to old tracks, but the companies still constantly drove on. The judgment shows that much of what is on Spotify and similar services is straight piracy. I would add that it’s really important that people who pay for Spotify find out how it is: the money does not end up with the artists, and especially almost all the money from older recordings will end up with the record companies.”

Spotify declined to comment when contacted by Music Ally, other than to say that it is monitoring the situation. But this case is not so much about Spotify as it is about label/artist contracts and distribution rights.

In that sense, it reminds us of events in 2013 when a group of Swedish artists – again, backed by their union – threatened to sue major labels over their share of the royalties from streams of their work. Back then, union lawyer Per Herrey made the point that many of the contracts being discussed were (in the Guardian’s words at the time) “so old that they don’t cover digital distribution and sales”.

As a music market, Sweden has long been a poster child for streaming: Spotify’s popularity there has helped the overall recorded-music market back into growth. But even in Sweden, issues of transparency and fair division of revenues are capable of causing a storm – and now, a court ruling that may open the way for a number of musicians to follow in Johan Johansson’s footsteps. Watch what happens next closely: streaming services, labels and artists around the world certainly will be.

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