When a company connected with Eminem gets legal over digital music, the industry sits up and takes notice, thanks to a dispute between publisher Eight Mile Style and Apple more than a decade ago, as well as an equally-famous case involving producers FBT Productions and Universal Music Group. Fast forward to 2019, and it’s Spotify that’s now facing a lawsuit from Eight Mile Style – the latest in a series of legal actions involving the streaming service and publishing licensing.
This one’s a humdinger too. The publisher is accusing Spotify of wilful copyright infringement (The Hollywood Reporter broke the story and has the full filing) by reproducing around 250 compositions from its catalogue.
“Spotify did not have any license to reproduce or distribute the Eight Mile Compositions, either direct, affiliate, or compulsory, but acted deceptively by pretending to have compulsory and/or other licenses,” alleges the complaint. “On information and belief, despite their not being licensed, the recordings of the Eight Mile Compositions have streamed on Spotify billions of times. Spotify has not accounted to Eight Mile or paid Eight Mile for these streams but instead remitted random payments of some sort, which only purport to account for a fraction of those streams.”
The lawsuit goes into more detail: not least its claim that Spotify and its agent the Harry Fox Agency have placed Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’ into a category called ‘Copyright Control’ – “a category reserved for songs for which the copyright owner is not known so the song cannot be licensed”. A state of affairs that Eight Mile Style describes as “absurd”, with more allegations on Spotify’s use of the US Copyright Office’s ‘notice of intent’ system for obtaining compulsory licences.
Spotify will doubtless have its own arguments to make in response – it had not responded publicly to the US reports published overnight, but Music Ally has reached out to the company this morning for any statement – we’ll carry that in tomorrow’s bulletin if it’s forthcoming. ‘Lose Yourself’ alone has been streamed 774.4m times on Spotify.
This isn’t just about Eminem’s publisher accusing Spotify though: in fact, the lawsuit goes further. It dings the past settlement brokered with Spotify by the National Music Publishers Association (“woefully inadequate and failed to hold Spotify adequately accountable”) and also challenges the recently signed-into-law Music Modernization Act (MMA).
“The retroactive elimination of the right to profits attributable to infringement, statutory damages, and attorneys’ fees under the MMA is an unconstitutional denial of substantive and procedural due process, and an unconstitutional taking of Eight Mile’s vested property right,” as the lawsuit puts it. Like those past disputes involving Eminem’s music, this one has the potential – even if, as seems likely, it ends in an out-of-court settlement – to fuel the wider debate about the gritty underbelly of music licensing and regulation around it.