Does creating a playlist that mirrors an established company's own playlists amount to infringement? Or more specifically, does allowing your users to create similar playlists and hosting them on your service make you liable?
Streaming music service Spotify is being sued over a bunch of user-generated playlists. The plaintiffs, London-based EDM brand Ministry of Sound, claim that Spotify has a duty to remove playlists from their service that mimic the playlists put out by their compilations division.
While Ministry of Sound has its own record label, the bulk of its business (and popularity) comes from its special compilations of dance music.
"Unlike others [record labels], the largest part of our business comes from sales of compilation albums. We painstakingly create, compile and market our albums all over the world. We help music fans discover new genres, records and classic catalogues. Millions trust our brands, our taste and our selection. We give them great listening experiences at a good price," says Ministry of Sound's Lohan Presencer.
"...But you won't find our compilation albums on Spotify. Why not? Because its business model does not recognise that our products have any material value. It doesn't consider them worth licensing. Which would be entirely its prerogative had our paths not crossed. But last year we noticed something on Spotify. Users of the service were copying our compilations. They were posting them as their own playlists and calling them "Ministry of Sound". We assumed it was an oversight on Spotify's part and contacted the company to request it remove the offending playlists. It declined, claiming there was no infringement and it wasn't its responsibility to police its users.'
Presencer says that this is a true "David vs Goliath battle."
Of course, Spotify has all the rights to stream all of the songs on these compilations - but it's the actual compilations that Ministry of Sound feels are protected.
"What we do is a lot more than putting playlists together: a lot of research goes into creating our compilation albums, and the intellectual property involved in that. It's not appropriate for someone to just cut and paste them," says Presencer.
And that's exactly what you'll find if you do a search on Spotify for "Ministry of Sound" - dozens of user-curated playlists that are "cut and pasted" in the same way as some of the company's famous compilations.
Can you really claim that playlists are protected as IP, even if the songs on the playlists don't come from your record label? Ministry of Sound thinks so, and it will be a question for the courts. Spotify has acknowledged the lawsuit, but has yet to comment.
Image via Spotify