The ears of senior Spotify execs will surely have been burning this afternoon, as veteran lawyer Dina LaPolt took the company to task in her Midem keynote over its appeal against new songwriter royalty rates in the US.
Spotify was not the only streaming service to appeal: Pandora, Amazon and Google are too. But LaPolt, who is president of LaPolt Law, explained why she thinks Spotify is drawing most heat from publishers and songwriters.
“Pandora has very little skin in the game. Their interactive service is shit!” she said. “Apple is amazing, because they accept the appeal and say ‘Yup, songwriters deserve more money’… Amazon are new, and they’re not a big player in the game.”
But Spotify? “But here comes Spotify with its Secret Genius awards and putting credits on their service… Bullshit! All this time they’re behind closed doors scheming and strategising,” said LaPolt, suggesting that the publishing community feels even more offended because Spotify had only recently been working with it on passing the Music Modernization Act in the US.
“‘Let’s get the MMA passed with these dumbasses, and then we’ll appeal this ruling so we don’t have to pay’,” was how she sees Spotify’s approach. LaPolt did go on to say that Spotify can rebuild its relationships with the publishing community, however.
“It’s not in anyone’s interest to have a divisive relationship with any of the tech companies,” she said. “I think there’s a way out for Spotify. I think if they withdraw their appeal, there’s a way out… At the end of the day we all need Spotify too, so it’s kinda this conundrum… All relationships can be fixed: it just takes communication.”
LaPolt was interviewed by Billboard journalist Hannah Karp, in a keynote that was originally planned to be a conversation between LaPolt and Epic Records boss Sylvia Rhone. The latter had to pull out due to food poisoning.
“We are going to channel our inner Sylvia, so she’s in this room with her energy!” said LaPolt, who told the Midem audience that “advocacy is in my blood” – not least because her firm has a policy of only representing people, rather than companies.
“That gave me a platform to start advocating for artists and creative people in another way, in addition to just being their music lawyer,” she said, before describing her role in shepherding the Music Modernization Act through in the US last year.
“I was the bully!” she joked. “Because I was free I had a lot of influence with the politicians… Because all of my efforts were pro-bono, even though it was a hardship on my personally, and I spent over $200,000 of my own money doing this over the past few years – much to my wife’s dismay! – when I would go to Washington, because I was pro-bono, they would listen to me… Congress members that were important.”
LaPolt also addressed the wider question around legislation to protect musicians. “We all have to work together, right? It doesn’t matter if you’re YouTube or Spotify or the record companies. Everybody values music, and they’ve all built their companies on the backs of music creators. And nobody wants the music creators to be run out of existence… It’s now even more important that we work together to achieve common goals.”
LaPolt also talked about sexism in the music industry, noting that because she runs her own company – where seven of the nine lawyers are women – she doesn’t butt up against a glass ceiling often any more. “Am I invited to the golf course? No. Do I really wanna go? No!”
LaPolt said she’ll continue to press for more diversity and pay equality in the industry, promising to call out any companies who she catches offering men higher salaries than women for the same roles.
“Lawyers are at the front lines of closing the deals and agreeing the contracts. We are the ones who can make it happen… so if we call out companies: ‘No you’re paying a man a lot more’… If we start doing that, we can solve a lot of the problems.”