Music Business

Spotify hit with ‘Cease & Desist’ from US Music Publishers Association: Read the full letter

Spotify received a cease-and-desist letter Wednesday from the National Music Publishers Association regarding its use of lyrics in newly launched video functions and a remix feature that enables users to speed up and edit songs to create derivative works.

The NMPA says these uses are copyright violations and must be paid for.

The letter [full text below] is the latest salvo in an increasingly contentious battle. The two are also at odds over Spotify’s new subscription plans combining music and audiobooks, which a Billboard analysis predicted could mean $150 million less for songwriters.

“Spotify once again has gone to war with songwriters.”

“Spotify once again has gone to war with songwriters. In addition to Spotify’s improper use of the ‘bundle’ definition to lower its payments to songwriters and publishers, the platform appears to be rife with unlicensed musical works,” said NMPA President & CEO David Israelite. “Today we warned Spotify that they will be held accountable for infringement from using songs and lyrics in videos and podcasts which require licenses that it has not secured. Before Spotify’s ‘bundling’ betrayal, we may have been able to work together to fix this problem, but they have chosen the hard road by coming after songwriters once again.

“rights that must be negotiated directly with rightsholders in a free market”

“It has come to our attention that Spotify displays lyrics and reproduces and distributes music videos and podcasts using musical works without the consent of or compensation to the respective publishers and/or administrators (our members) who control the copyrights in the musical compositions” reads the letter, from NMPA lawyers to Spotify. “As such, these uses of musical works on the Spotify platform are not licensed or will soon become unlicensed.

“The use of lyrics and music in videos and podcasts on its platform requires rights that must be negotiated directly with rightsholders in a free market,” it continues. [Read the full letter below.]

“a press stunt filled with false and misleading claims”

Spotify replied: “This letter is a press stunt filled with false and misleading claims. It’s an attempt to deflect from the Phono IV deal that the NMPA agreed to and celebrated back in 2022. We paid a record amount to benefit songwriters in 2023, and we are on track to exceed this amount in 2024. Spotify is a platform for licensed content. We are committed to the integrity of our platform, and we have a clear process in place for rights holders to contact Spotify about any content they believe is unlicensed.

Bruce Houghton is the Founder and Editor of Hypebot, a Senior Advisor at Bandsintown, President of the Skyline Artists Agency, and a Berklee College Of Music professor.


Read the full NMPA letter to Spotify

May 15, 2024 

VIA EMAIL 

Mr. David Kaefer, VP and Global Head, Music and Audiobook Businesses Ms. Eve Konstan, General Counsel 

Spotify USA Inc. 

4 World Trade Center 

150 Greenwich Street, 62nd Floor 

New York, NY 10007 

dkaefer@spotify.com 

eve@spotify.com 

Re: Unlicensed Use of Music on Spotify 

Dear Mr. Kaefer and Ms. Konstan: 

I write on behalf of the National Music Publishers’ Association (“NMPA”) regarding  copyright infringement of our members’ musical works on the Spotify platform. As the voice of  our members, NMPA protects, promotes, and advances the interests of music creators and enforces  the rights of publishers, and their songwriter partners, who own and/or control musical work  copyrights.  

Music is essential to Spotify’s service; it is the reason subscribers utilize the Spotify  platform every day. Spotify’s primary use of musical works via interactive streams and downloads  is subject to the antiquated compulsory license under 17 U.S.C. § 115 and consent decree-governed  public performance licenses. 

Regardless of the mechanical and public performance licenses Spotify may have, however,  the use of lyrics and music in videos and podcasts on its platform requires rights that must be negotiated directly with rightsholders in a free market.  

It has come to our attention that Spotify displays lyrics and reproduces and distributes  music videos and podcasts using musical works without the consent of or compensation to the  respective publishers and/or administrators (our members) who control the copyrights in the  musical compositions. As such, these uses of musical works on the Spotify platform are not  licensed or will soon become unlicensed. 

U.S. copyright law generally grants copyright owners the exclusive right to, among other  things, reproduce, distribute, display, perform publicly, and create derivative works from their 

copyrighted works under 17 U.S.C. § 106. Violation of these exclusive rights constitutes copyright  infringement under 17 U.S.C. § 501.  

Spotify thus appears to be engaged in direct infringement by hosting unlicensed musical  works in its lyrics, videos, and podcasts, and by distributing unauthorized reproductions,  synchronizations, displays, and derivative uses of these musical works to its users. Making matters  worse, Spotify profits from such infringement.  

Accordingly, on behalf of our members, NMPA demands that unlicensed lyrics, music  videos, and podcasts be removed from the platform or Spotify will face copyright liability for  continued use of these works. 

We also understand that Spotify wishes to offer a “remix” feature allowing Spotify  subscribers to “speed up, mash up, and otherwise edit” their favorite songs to create derivative  works.1 Spotify is on notice that release of any such feature without the proper licenses in place  from our members may constitute additional direct infringement.  

NMPA further demands that Spotify preserve all electronically stored information (“ESI”),  as defined by Rule 34 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, along with any paper files, in  Spotify’s possession, custody, or control that is relevant to use of our members’ unlicensed works.  Spotify must also cease any auto-deletion operations affecting ESI relevant to this matter.  

This letter is not intended as a full recitation of the facts or claims that may be made against  Spotify by NMPA, its members, and/or other copyright owners, and is made without prejudice to  all rights or remedies against Spotify and all others acting in concert with Spotify, including  without limitation, monetary damages and attorneys’ fees as provided under 17 U.S.C. §§ 502- 505. 

Sincerely, 

Danielle Aguirre, EVP & General Counsel, NMPA  

CC: David Israelite, President & CEO, NMPA 

 NMPA Board of Directors 

NMPA Legal Committee 

1 Anne Steele, Spotify Plans New Remixing Tools for the TikTok Generation, WALL STREET  JOURNAL, April 11, 2024.

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