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The Full Story Behind Spotify and NMPA's Battle Regarding Copyright Infringement.

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Spotify And NMPA Battle - iMusician

The National Music Publisher’s Association (NMPA) is reportedly on the verge of filing a lawsuit against Spotify. Music publishers claim that Spotify has actively infringed their copyrights through the widespread use of unlicensed musical works, including lyrics, in music videos and podcasts.

NMPA accuses Spotify of taking ‘back-stabbing’ action against songwriters

The news of the alleged lawsuit was first reported by Music Business Worldwide (MBW), which obtained a legal letter from the NMPA to Spotify on behalf of its members.

According to NMPA, Spotify “displays lyrics and reproduces and distributes music videos and podcasts using musical works without the consent of or compensation to the respective publishers and/or administrators (NMPA members).”

The association acknowledges that Spotify has acquired mechanical and public performance licenses allowing the streaming and downloading of musical works on the platform. However, the use of lyrics and music in videos and podcasts on the platform is not subject to these licenses, and separate permissions granted by the NMPA members would be required for this matter.

Therefore, Spotify allegedly engages in direct copyright infringement by presenting unlicensed musical works in its lyrics, videos, and podcasts and distributing unauthorized reproductions.

In its letter, NMPA demands that any unlicensed lyrics, music videos, and podcasts available on Spotify be taken down from the platform. Otherwise, Spotify will “face copyright liability for continued use of these works.”

The letter and potential legal threats come at a time when Spotify and NMPA have already been experiencing considerable tension. The two parties' relationship became strained in April 2024 when Spotify announced its controversial decision to turn its Premium tiers in the US into “bundles.”

Based on a 2022 legal agreement between music publishers and music streaming services — also known as Phonorecords IV —, any bundle services in the US are allowed to compensate publishers and songwriters with lower mechanical royalty rates than standalone music subscriptions. Spotify’s decision, therefore, has naturally angered the NMPA, which has already disclosed that this situation, too, will likely result in a legal conflict.

This suggests that Spotify is already facing two potential legal actions from the NMPA. While they are seemingly two separate matters, they both touch on an issue that we’ve collectively faced in the music industry — unfair royalty pay to songwriters and publishers.

Commenting on the situation, an undisclosed industry leader in the music publishing business criticized Spotify, claiming that the platform “thinks it’s so clever looking for legal loopholes to cut songwriter pay.” Unsurprised, they claim that pretending to be “friends with songwriters while knifing them in the back” has always been Spotify’s move.

Spotify furious over NMPA's alleged 'false and misleading' allegations

Spotify didn’t take long to respond. The same day NMPA made their allegations, the streaming service fired back at the association, calling their letter “a press stunt filled with false and misleading claims.” It has also claimed that the 2022 deal allowing Spotify to create bundle services at lower costs was something that NMPA “agreed to and celebrated” in the past.

In their response, Spotify’s spokesperson was highly defensive of the platform’s stance on songwriters and publishers’ compensation, stating it “paid a record amount to benefit songwriters in 2023 and is on track to exceed this amount in 2024.

Data supporting this statement has also been proudly presented in Spotify’s annual Loud & Clear Report. The company claims that over the past two years, it has paid out almost $4 billion globally to publishing rights holders representing songwriters.

However, NMPA is not alone in this tricky situation. Just as quickly as Spotify responded, the Songwriters and Composers Wing of the Recording Academy came out in support of the publisher association and its members.

In its statement, the Recording Academy Wing pledged to “stand with songwriters and work to ensure they are fully valued and appropriately compensated for the work they do that enriches our lives.” Whether the back-and-forth accusations will eventually turn into a legal action is yet unclear.

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