Tensions between music publishers and Spotify are nothing new, but there appears to be a new fissure opening up: over the videos that Spotify embeds in its popular playlists. And for once, this isn’t a controversy fuelled by anonymous sources giving background briefings to the industry press. Universal Music Publishing Group’s chief operating officer Marc Cimino has gone on-the-record with criticism of Spotify, in an interview with Bloomberg.
The issue, according to the article, is that in UMPG’s eyes, Spotify should be paying the publisher more for the music used in these videos, but isn’t. “We want to allow our digital partners to experiment and at the same time make sure our songwriters are paid properly,” said Cimino. “Audio is different than video… This isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last where we are involved in a discussion or negotiation with them on how songwriters are fairly compensated.”
Universal Music isn’t a company prone to letting its executives rampage off-message in on-the-record interviews, to say the least. It’s thus not an overreaction to see this as a very public, strategic broadside at Spotify from the company’s publishing division – albeit one that risks losing its nuance by being bundled in to an article about the wider tensions between Spotify and labels (rather than publishers) – “Music executives call Spotify a bad partner — arrogant, unreliable, dismissive of their work — and are quick to point out that such services are only popular because of the music. Spotify says the labels are backward-looking and stifle its attempts to innovate” being the summary here.
One question sparked by Cimino’s comments is whether there might be tensions over this issue within Universal Music Group (and, indeed, its rivals) in terms of how the label arms view Spotify’s video royalties compared to the publishing arms, for example. And to root this within the wider rumblings over how streaming royalties of all kinds are divided between labels and publishers. Still, while Spotify’s culture of trying new features without necessarily having the green light from rightsholders (‘move fast and break partners’ patience’ if you were putting a Zuckerberg-style slogan on it) may please Wall Street, it may not be the best base for the service’s future licensing renewals with the major music groups.