Spotify, a digital music streaming and downloading service, faces another copyright infringement allegation in a series of lawsuits brought by music publishers and songwriters. On December 29th, 2017, Wixen Music Publishing, Inc., an independent music publisher formed in 1978, filed a complaint in California federal court, alleging that Spotify willfully infringed the copyrights of a list of musical compositions. Wixen identified approximately 10,784 musical compositions and seeks a total statutory award of at least $1.6 billion.
Wixen’s complaint asserts that “as Spotify has publicly admitted, and as recent lawsuits and settlements confirm, Spotify has repeatedly failed to obtain necessary statutory, or ‘mechanical,’ licenses to reproduce and/or distribute compositions on its service.” As a result, songwriters and publishers have been unable to properly share in Spotify’s achievements. Wixen also argues that, Spotify, on numerous occasions, had used music without either a license or compensation to the creators.
The complaint also criticizes the recent $43.4 million proposed settlement in the class-action lawsuit Ferrick et. al. v. Spotify USA Inc. et al., asserting that it does not sufficiently compensate Wixen or the songwriters it represents. Accordingly, Wixen opts out the musical compositions at issue from the proposed settlement.
The settlement to which Wixen refers was reached just six months earlier and was led by songwriters David Lowery and Melissa Ferrick. Lowery and Ferrick had filed similar suits in December 2015 and January 2016, leading to their consolidation by Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell of the Central District of California. More than 500 musicians and music copyright owners, including Tom Petty, have objected to the proposed settlement, calling it “grossly insufficient.”
Wixen’s timing proves noteworthy for more than one reason. On December 21st, lawmakers and major publishing companies proposed the Music Modernization Act to simplify the music licensing process and increase royalties. If the bill passes, then certain legal remedies will be eliminated for lawsuits filed after January 1st, 2018. The suit also comes just as Spotify filed with the SEC for its IPO.
Andrew Flanagan, “David Lowery and Melissa Ferrick’s Lawsuits Against Spotify Get Combined,” Billboard (May 24, 2016), https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/7385072/david-lowery-melissa-ferrick-spotofy-lawsuits-combined
Daniel Kreps, “Wixen’s $1.6 Billion Spotify Lawsuit: What You Need To Know,” Rolling Stone (Jan. 3, 2018), https://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/wixens-16-billion-spotify-lawsuit-what-you-need-to-know-w514878
Eriq Gardner, “Spotify Hit with $1.6B Copyright Lawsuit Over Tom Petty, Weezer, Neil Young Songs,” The Hollywood Reporter (Jan. 2, 2018), https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/spotify-hit-16-billion-copyright-lawsuit-tom-petty-weezer-neil-young-songs-1070960
Ferrick et. al. v. Spotify USA Inc. et. al., case number 1:16-cv-08412 (S.D.N.Y.)
Melissa Daniels, “Hundreds Of Musicians Object To $43M Spotify Copyright Deal,” Law360 (Sep. 13, 2017), https://www.law360.com/articles/963345
Michelle Fabio, “$1.6B Lawsuit Plunges Spotify Into Troubled Legal Waters Just As It Files For Its IPO,” Forbes (Jan. 4, 2018), https://www.forbes.com/sites/michellefabio/2018/01/04/1-6b-lawsuit-plunges-spotify-into-troubled-legal-waters-just-as-it-files-for-its-ipo/#51684ef53fde
Oliver Gettell, “Spotify slapped with $1.6 billion copyright lawsuit over Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks songs,” Entertainment Weekly (Jan. 2, 2018), http://ew.com/music/2018/01/02/spotify-wixen-copyright-lawsuit/
Robert Levine, “Spotify Settles Class Action Lawsuits Filed By David Lowery and Melissa Ferrick With $43.4 Million Fund,” Billboard (May 26, 2017), https://www.billboard.com/articles/business/7809561/spotify-settles-class-action-lawsuits-filed-by-david-lowery-and-melissa
Wixen Music Publishing, Inc., http://www.wixenmusic.com/about/the-company/
Wixen Music Publishing, Inc., v. Spotify USA Inc., case number 2:17-cv-09288 (C.D. Cal.)