Does Spotify Actually Have the Rights to the Music It Streams?

September 17, 2017

Copyright protections in music are in place so that an owner of a song can enforce that ownership in the courts if needed. The copyright process is rather simple. Songwriters can follow these simple steps to get their music copyrighted if they so choose. Then, if someone uses your music without your permission, you should have recourse in the courts. However, according to recent suits, Spotify, the popular music streaming service, does not seem to believe those protections are enforceable against them.
Spotify is being sued for infringing reproduction and distribution rights in what is just the latest of suits brought against Spotify. Just a few months prior, Spotify settled a $200 million lawsuit regarding their failure to acquire mechanical licenses from song owners – the same issue involved here.
Mechanical licenses are required to reproduce and distribute a song that is owned by another person. However, according to these recent suits, Spotify has not acquired those licenses from song owners. In Spotify’s latest response, they argue that they are not required to acquire mechanical licenses because they are not reproducing the music, they are just “streaming” it. This may be a loophole, but because of the settlements, we have not seen an official judgment from the courts.
However, a former Spotify executive did recently claim that mechanical licenses were required. It will be interesting to see how the court views this past affirmation in light of Spotify’s current argument. Of course, Spotify can claim that their policy has changed, or that the executive did not represent the official policy of Spotify. Either way, it is something that could make or break the case for Spotify – or result in a higher settlement down the line.
This mechanical issue isn’t just some squabble between songwriters and streaming services like Spotify.

It has been theorized that unless copyright laws in the US are modified, songwriting could soon die.

Copyright laws need to keep up in order to adapt to our every-changing technological landscape. The fix could be as simple as adding in a streaming provision to the current statute. Or the courts could interpret the statute as requiring streaming companies to acquire mechanical licenses to song users. Regardless, if Spotify and other similar services don’t obtain mechanical licenses from song-writers they can likely expect to continue seeing lawsuits in the future.
Two years ago, the U.S. Copyright office performed and released a study regarding overhauling the current law. While they came to many good conclusions, their implementation may be more difficult than hoped. Like all of us, they want to ensure that song writers are properly paid. However, in reality, this will likely result in higher fees for using services like Spotify. Regardless, Spotify does not seem to have any problems paying out large settlements to song-writers. Hopefully the cost does not get passed down to the consumer in the long-run, many of whom don’t even realize that they were listening to music that may not have been properly acquired.