The copyright implications of music streaming services continue to be in the news. The latest company to find itself in the spotlight is Google whose Google Play Music, a streaming service, faces a class action lawsuit in the United States.
The action has been brought in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York by Yesh Music, which is arguing that Google failed to issue notices of intent (NOIs) to musicians to use their works before reproducing them on the service. Similar claims have previously been filed against the service Tidal (also by Yesh) and against Spotify (by a pair of musicians, David Lowery and Melissa Ferrick). Yesh Music is controlled by an artist, John Emanuele, who plays with the group The American Dollar.
The Google Play service works in a similar way to established streaming services in that subscribers pay a (comparatively modest) sum (in this case US$9.99 per month) for unlimited access to a vast library of recordings.
Under US law, works that are protected under a mechanical licence can be reproduced by a party if it issues an NOI to the right owner within 30 days of reproducing the work and, in return for the reproduction, the right owner receives a fee. (A mechanical licence is a licence granted by the holder of copyright in an underlying musical work to another party to cover, reproduce or sample specific parts of a work.)
Google has not commented on the action. Tidal has said that if Emanuele has an issue it should be with the Harry Fox Agency, a rights management agency and collector and distributor of mechanical licence fees on behalf of music publishers in the States, rather than itself, as Tidal says it is up to date with its payments for mechanical licences. The action against Tidal says that Tidal “knows full well that Harry Fox and Music Reports do not even try to service NOIs … or calculate proper mechanical royalty rates unless expressly directed”. In other words, Tidal – and other streaming services – are making the songs available first and worrying about the licence position later.
The action against Tidal is perhaps more emotive than that against Google as Tidal’s reputation is in part based on a perception that it is more favourably disposed to the artists than competing streaming services. Tidal is owned by Shawn Carter, better known as Jay Z.