Lawsuit Asks: Can You Copyright a Spotify Playlist?

Ministry of Sound, which produces clubland compilations that are not available on Spotify, is suing the streaming service because its users replicate those compilations through playlists.

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The dance label Ministry of Sound has sued Spotify over alleged copyright infringement carried out by its users, according to a report in The Guardian.

This looks like it will be an interesting case. Obviously Spotify’s users can’t upload anything, so it’s not about that sort of copyright infringement, but rather about the creation of playlists. Ministry of Sound is a popular purveyor of clubland compilations—which are not available on Spotify—and it’s the replication of those track listings as user-generated Spotify playlists that is the issue.

Ministry of Sound’s awesomely-named CEO, Lohan Presencer, told The Guardian that “there has been a brick wall from Spotify” despite the label’s requests to have the offending playlists taken down. Some of the playlists apparently mention “Ministry of Sound” in the title.

Spotify is yet to comment but, in a statement, Presencer said:

“After several rounds of legal letters, this dispute will now be settled in court. We believe we have a clear cut case.

“After 20 years and more than 50 million album sales, the value and creativity in our compilations are self-evident. We aim to ensure that our creativity is protected and respected.”

The label is no stranger to litigation. In 2010 it was one of the first copyright holders in the UK to threaten thousands of internet users over the illegal downloading of its music—it dropped the action after ISP giant BT fought back.

This time, according to The Guardian, Ministry of Sound’s suit follows a breakdown of licensing talks between the label and Spotify—the problem here seems to be the licensing deals that the Ministry of Sound itself has struck with the publishers of the songs that appear on its compilations, which do not permit streaming.

Interestingly, one of Presencer’s main arguments in the Spotify case is that Ministry of Sound is a curator, and failure to stop Spotify’s users from replicating its playlists “opens up the floodgates to anybody who wants to copy what a curator is doing.” That said, I’d imagine there are plenty of arguments against Ministry of Sound’s case, chief among them the fact that playlists aping the label’s track ordering won’t actually result in straight copies of those compilations—the albums involve a degree of mixing as well as ordering.

But it’s worth keeping an eye on this one. There are a lot of user-generated curation models around these days, so it’s a case that could potentially have wide-ranging implications.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.