Ministry Of Sound is Suing Spotify; Claims Compilations and Playlists Should Be Protected

Image via Spotify
Image via Spotify

Although much of the copyright buzz these days is going to artists and their labels, it seems that curators like Ministry Of Sound are now ready to stake their claim, too.  Speaking in an editorial with The Guardian, MoS CEO Lohan Presencer said, “It is time that Spotify’s actions are held to account,” stating that the streaming service has continually infringed on the MoS’s copyright and that “this is a David vs Goliath battle, but one which we have no choice in fighting. If we roll over and don’t protect our rights, then we open the floodgates to others. We will not let that happen.”

MoS, a full-fledged label with a stirling reputation for putting out some of the best compilations, explained the crux of the issue in simple terms:

“Unlike others, the largest part of our business comes from sales of compilation albums. We painstakingly create, compile and market our albums all over the world. We help music fans discover new genres, records and classic catalogues. Millions trust our brands, our taste and our selection. We give them great listening experiences at a good price. 

But you won’t find our compilation albums on Spotify. Why not? Because its business model does not recognise that our products have any material value. It doesn’t consider them worth licensing. Which would be entirely its prerogative had our paths not crossed. But last year we noticed something on Spotify. Users of the service were copying our compilations. They were posting them as their own playlists and calling them “Ministry of Sound”. We assumed it was an oversight on Spotify’s part and contacted the company to request it remove the offending playlists. It declined, claiming there was no infringement and it wasn’t its responsibility to police its users.”

To many, this might seem like an open and close case in that compilations and curation isn’t an art form or something worth protecting.  While I do understand how many will arrive at that perspective, I whole-heartedly believe that it’s ignorant.  As someone who DJs and curates content I am most assuredly bias, but I have also been on the other side as a fan and still believe they should be protected.  In a world where everyone and their mother could (and does) set up a SoundCloud account and upload their work and market themselves, it becomes difficult to wade through the crap if you don’t know where to start.

Though entire discographies and collections are available with just a few clicks, people like you are still actively engaging in curated content when you read; similarly to those who buy compilations from Ministry Of Sound. Think about why you do it, too! You’re trusting in a curator or a brand when you buy from a label, read a website, or download a radio show. You’re doing it because you like the product and you don’t want to or know how to do it yourself and this all takes original work to put it together.  We do it so you don’t have to.  The fact is, the average person doesn’t have time or the skills or the taste to put together these compilations and put them out their with success like Ministry Of Sound does.

Personal views aside, Harvard’s Jonathan Zittrain commented to The Verge that he believes that US copyright does protect this. As per the Copyright Act, compilations are defined as a “collection and assembling of preexisting materials or of data that are selected in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work.”  Though as The Verge points out, “just how the suit affects Spotify in the US is unclear.”

In a time where the arts are often de-funded, neglected and often considered to be “disposable,” this case could have a say in how we value arts in society going forward.