The arguable king of the nightclub industry Ministry of Sound last week reached a settlement with streaming service Spotify in relation to its claim for alleged copyright infringement over playlists based on Ministry of Sound compilations.
Ministry of Sound has established itself as one of the leading dance music brands with a hugely popular range of compilation albums, sold under its distinctive name and logo. A number of these playlists were being created and shared by users of Spotify, replicating exactly the content and order of various compilations.
Although there was no question that the individual songs had been properly licensed in the first place, a dispute arose over the use of such tracks in these compilation playlists available to download from Spotify. Following an exchange of letters through which no resolution could be reached, in September 2013 Ministry of Sound brought copyright infringement proceedings against Spotify. Ministry of Sound claimed that the playlists were protected as works of copyright because of the selection and arrangement involved in putting together the compilations, and it is believed they brought their claim under section 3(a) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (which provides copyright protection for databases). Databases are generally accepted to include any collection of independent copyright works which are individually accessible and systematically or methodically arranged, and had the case gone to trial it would have been interesting to see if playlists were deemed to fall within this definition of a database.
Settlement of this dispute has also prevented the opportunity for any judicial statement on whether copyright should in any event, as a matter of law, subsist in compilation track lists given the clear indication in Recital 19 of the EU Database Directive, which provides that “as a rule, the compilation of several recordings of musical performances on a CD does not come within the scope of this Directive… because, as a compilation, it does not meet the conditions for copyright protection…”.
The precise terms of the settlement announced last week have not been released, but it is understood that the compilations available for download will soon be removed from the search engine, and new users will be blocked from “following” them. The playlists will not be deleted but will not be findable through the search engine. Users can of course still create their own playlists which mirror the Ministry of Sound compilations for their own, personal use only.
It will be interesting to see how the relationship between the two parties develops now an “amicable” settlement has been reached. For instance, there has been talk of possible agreements between the parties whereby Spotify offers its users a Ministry of Sound-branded application, and/or official Ministry of Sound playlists. Of course, whatever happens, it is important to remember that the royalties for the individual tracks themselves will still vest in the music labels, publishers and producers who ultimately own the rights to the songs.