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Ministry of Sound sues Spotify over user playlists

Streamers are 'copying' our curated compilations, claim music moguls

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Dance music empire the Ministry of Sound is suing music streaming service Spotify to protect the value of its compilation albums, in an unusual test case of European intellectual property law.

The legendary clubbing empire launched proceedings in the UK High Court on Monday. It wants an injunction requiring Spotify to remove the playlists and also wants the music streaming service to permanently block other playlists that copy its compilations. The company is also seeking damages and costs.

"Everyone is talking about curation, but curation has been the cornerstone of our business for the last 20 years," MoS CEO Lohan Presencer argues in the Guardian. He’s seeking to clarify whether compilation albums are themselves protectable.

Presencer says that MoS had objected to Spotify users copying their playlists and naming them “Ministry of Sound”, but had been ignored. It remains to be seen whether copyright or some other trade legislation will be used – such as passing off – and while the assumption that copyright will be used is widespread at the moment, this may be premature. Presencer doesn't say how MoS will make its legal case.

But if copyright laws were used, how would MoS go about it? Copyright has become significantly weaker in the digital era, as the law has failed to keep pace with technology, eroding the ability of an individual to protect their property.

It's useful to remember that copyright operates in three dimensions:strength – how easily it can be enforced; length – how long the period of exclusivity lasts; and breadth – what things it covers. And one of the rare modern extensions in the breadth of copyright protection has been an extension to compilations – of a sort.

Databases such as telephone books became legally protected by the EU in February 1996. Under US law, some originality is required in curating the collection.

Indeed, it may be easier to use other trade legislation rather than copyright legislation. We’ll have to wait and see.

The Ministry of Sound's £150m music group describes itself as “a global youth entertainment business comprising recorded music, nightclubs and bars, live events, consumer electronics and fashion.” It encompasses a network of imprints which adds up to the world’s biggest independent label.

Alongside the original material issued by MoS are hugely popular dance compilations containing much material obtained under licence – which means MoS can’t negotiate with Spotify directly. Once Spotify has a licence for the original material from the rights-holder, it can, however, stream each track directly – allowing the user to recreate the compilation via a playlist. ®

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