Spotify has been in the news a lot recently, especially after Thom Yorke’s comments around whether up and coming artists get any significant financial reward from having their music available to be streamed on the site. And, just this week, I was intrigued to read that dance music empire Ministry of Sound is suing Spotify for copyright infringement due to users of the online streaming service creating playlists that mirror Ministry of Sound compilation albums. When I first read this, I was quite amazed as I had never heard of a case quite like it in music. Copyright issues have become more and more common within the music industry in the last decade or so, from the early days of digital downloading to just last month when members of Marvin Gaye’s family got embroiled in a copyright dispute with Robin Thicke over the song “Blurred Lines” of which they argued copied Gaye’s song “Got To Give it Up.” But suing a company because their users made playlists which copied official releases is something new altogether.
The success of this particular case will be dependent on whether a case can be made for compilation albums to qualify for copyright protection because of the effort that goes in to arranging the track listing and putting the albums together, while also whether the actual order of tracks on a compilation album can be copyrighted. Compilation albums are a significant money earner for the music industry, especially if they are compiled and released through a major label or a brand such as Ministry of Sound. This makes me believe that in pursuing this case against Spotify, Ministry of Sound are simply out to protect their financial interests with no real care for the satisfaction of the casual music fan, users of Spotify, and indeed it seems Ministry of Sound fans.
To me, this case is just another attempt from a music mogul to control how music is distributed, and in doing so control that distribution process so it is favorable to them and their financial interest, interests that are worth within the multi-million dollar range annually. Music streaming is quickly becoming one of the most popular ways in which people are listening to music in an increasingly diversified music listening landscape. And with sites like Spotify offering their services for free, or cheap subscriptions, major labels and other influential organizations such as Ministry of Sound will become more concerned as to whether their historically strong monopoly on music distribution will remain. Such concerns will only increase if they believe that the popularity of online streaming and other ‘free’ or cheap listening music services will affect their record sales and therefore the profit margins of the big global conglomerates.
This brings me back on to the issue of making playlists, something that is very popular amongst users of Spotify and iTunes. At the end of the day, one must ask what is actually wrong with music fans compiling their favorite tracks into playlists for their own pleasure. Music and the act of listening to music is one of the most pleasurable experiences one can have, and if a music fan has the opportunity to enhance this experience through making themed playlists then surely that’s a good thing and should be encouraged not prevented. People have been compiling music for their own personal use for decades, you only need to think of bootlegging and tape making for starters, while iTunes is also in the business of allowing users to make their own personal playlists. The mind actually boggles as to where Ministry of Sound is coming from on this issue in what to me is simply an attempt by them to control how music fans listen to music, and from Ministry of Sounds point of view how they listen to their music. Surely they should be happy people are listening to their product in the first place and indeed getting enjoyment from it through the act of making their own playlists. Spotify and music streaming, in general, is just the latest example in a long list where music fans have beaten the moguls to the pump in changing the music listening and music-consuming landscape. When these moguls realise their financial interests are threatened they target the copyright loophole that tends to come with the distribution of information online in an attempt to try and stamp out such activity, forcing people to resort to traditional means of acquiring music, which in the case of Ministry of Sound means buying their fifty-thousand compilation albums.
In conclusion, the major players in the music industry have for too long now been behind the times when it comes to music distribution and the new ways in which people are getting their music today. Ultimately it is their responsibility to catch up with the developments of things such as music streaming and other forms of online music distribution in the digital age, because If they don’t they will continue to lose out financially and the music fan will continue to rule the roost as to how and where they listen to music. It is about options and giving music fans more diversity in how they can listen to their music without restricting what they can and can’t do. Making playlists is a harmless activity and should, in reality, have no significant effect on the compilation sales of Ministry of Sound. But when you consider the profit over product and capital over culture ideals that exist amongst the hegemons of the music industry, a harmless activity such as making a playlist on Spotify can evidently get heads turning.