After Tom Petty passed away in October, music fans headed to Spotify in droves to listen to his music and sample the featured playlists that the streaming service created in his honor. According to the publisher that holds the rights to his music, Spotify didn’t have the right to stream any of that music and now it’s time to pay up for that and much more.
Per The Hollywood Reporter, Wixen Music Publishing has filed a lawsuit against Spotify, seeking damages worth “at least $1.6 billion plus injunctive relief.”
Wixen holds the rights to songs composed by some of the most influential and important artists of the last 40 years, including Tom Petty, Zach De La Rocha and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, David Cassidy, Neil Young, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, and Stevie Nicks. They accuse Spotify of providing music from these artists and more without a proper license, therefore not properly compensating the artists. Since songs by these artists have been listened to well into the multi-millions of times, that all adds up.
Spotify is hitting back by questioning whether or not Wixen is actually authorized by those artists to take these aggressive actions. While the songwriters have administrative agreements that allow Wixen to negotiate licensing deals, Spotify notes that those agreements say nothing about litigation.
Of course, Spotify may just be trying to find a loophole in their mounting legal problems. Wixen is far from the first publisher or artist to sue them over improper compensation. In May, Spotify settled a class action lawsuit with various songwriters for $43 million over claims that they hadn’t adequately paid licenses. In July, they were hit with two lawsuits, one of which from a songwriter and member of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, over proper compensation. And then there are the curious allegations stemming from seemingly-fake bands that are gobbling up potential profits from real bands in what might be a scheme created by Spotify themselves.
As the company hopes to go public this year, the mounting legal issues that come with their alleged compensation problems could pose a major issue for stockholders unsure about taking on the risks. Music licensing is going to be a major issue as technology moves forward and the music industry leaves CDs and tangible distribution behind. This won’t the last you hear about legal trouble in this arena. In the meantime, it’s up to consumers to make informed decisions about how they get their music and whether or not the artists involved are being properly compensated.