Label Sues Spotify Because Some Of Its Users Create Playlists Of Authorized Music In The Same Order It Did

Another day, another wacky copyright lawsuit. Ministry of Sound, the well-known nightclub/record label in London that puts together various compilations of dance music is suing Spotify, claiming copyright infringement in a case that will fascinate copyright fanatics. This one goes a few layers deep, so stick with it: MoS is not suing because the music on Spotify is unauthorized. Nor is it suing because of anything that Spotify itself did. Rather, it’s suing because some users of Spotify have put together and published “playlists” (a feature found on pretty much any music playing software ever) that mimic some of the compilations that MoS has released. Again, the music itself is all legally authorized and licensed to be on Spotify. The complaint from MoS is merely that some Spotify users have put them together in the same order. And this is somehow an outrage and copyright infringement:
Chief executive Lohan Presencer claims that his company has been asking Spotify to remove the playlists – some of which include “Ministry of Sound” in their titles – since 2012

“It’s been incredibly frustrating: we think it’s been very clear what we’re arguing, but there has been a brick wall from Spotify,” said Presencer.
While US law does cover some very loose copyright protection for “compilations,” UK law may be worse. As we covered a few years ago, there was a ridiculous case in the UK, in which a court argued that putting together a list of facts could create a copyright. The case involved football schedules, and the court ridiculously said:
“The process of preparing fixture lists involves very significant labor and skill in satisfying the multitude of often competing requirements of those involved,” Judge Christopher Floyd said. “(It is) not mere sweat of the brow, by which I mean the application of rigid criteria to the processing of data. The quality of the solution depends in part on the skill of those involved.”
It seems quite likely, that MoS is relying on this kind of language to make its argument, though I’d argue that all this case does is highlight just how ridiculous that original ruling is. Yes, there can be creativity involved in putting together a playlist, but that doesn’t mean it should receive a copyright.

And then there’s the entirely separate issue of secondary liability. Why should Spotify be liable for how its users group their songs together? Should Spotify actually be forced to police users and stop them from putting various combinations of songs together in a particular order? Does anyone actually think that’s a useful purpose for copyright?

Once again, we see what copyright is turned into: a tool for control and stopping what most people think is basic human activity. Putting together authorized, legal songs in a particular order? How could anyone think that should be infringing?

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Eric Write head editor and chief at The Pluto Daily