Artist News Business News Labels & Publishers Legal

Judge declines to issue summary judgement on Kobalt side dispute in Eminem v Spotify copyright case

By | Published on Monday 12 September 2022


The judge overseeing the copyright dispute between Eminem’s publisher Eight Mile Style and Spotify last week declined to issue a summary judgement on a side dispute involving Kobalt.

That was based on the conclusion that some expert testimonies were probably required because, you know, music publishing is fucking complicated, and who the fuck knows what’s really going on when a publisher licences a streaming service? I mean, I’m paraphrasing slightly. But that’s pretty much what judge Aleta Trauger meant.

Eight Mile Style accuses Spotify of not properly sorting out all the admin before making Eminem’s songs available to stream in the US. As a result, it can’t rely on the compulsory licence that covers the mechanical copying of songs Stateside, and therefore it is liable for copyright infringement.

Of course, lawsuits of this kind were meant to come to an end with the 2018 Music Modernization Act which changed the way song rights are licensed to streaming services in the US. But, in 2019, Eight Mile Style sued anyway over Spotify’s past streaming of Eminem’s music, arguing that – for various reasons – the new laws shouldn’t stop it from holding the streaming giant liable for its allegedly dodgy rights admin pre-MMA.

Along the way Spotify has tried to shift the blame onto Kobalt, as the administrator of Eight Mile Style’s catalogue. It claimed that it was under the impression that it had the Eminem songs covered via its relationship with Kobalt, initially via the compulsory licence paperwork it sent to the music rights firm, and later via a direct mechanical rights licensing deal it negotiated with the company.

Eight Mile Style countered that – while Kobalt did have the rights to administrate its songs and collect any royalties due – it didn’t have the right to license the smaller publisher’s repertoire.

Meanwhile, for its part, Kobalt said that the streaming firm’s legal filings “mischaracterised the substance” of its deals with both Eight Mile Style and Spotify. And it also took issue with the way Spotify and its rights admin provider – the Harry Fox Agency – had dealt with the licensing paperwork and royalty payments in relation to the Eminem songs.

As the dispute between Spotify and Eight Mile Style rumbles on, the former requested a summary judgement on the Kobalt side dispute. It asked the judge to confirm its viewpoint that, under its deal with Kobalt, it’s “crystal clear” that the music rights firm is obliged to “indemnify” it in cases like the Eight Mile Style dispute.

But, according to Billboard, Trauger stated last week: “All of the underlying transactions and events at issue occurred against the unique backdrop of the music publishing industry, with its preexisting norms, customs, and terminology, which can be opaque to outsiders unversed in industry practice”.

Therefore, “expert testimony is likely to be the clearest, most comprehensive way for a finder of fact to cut through the thicket of highly specialised knowledge that frames this dispute”.

With that in mind, she declined to issue a summary judgment, allowing Kobalt to provide expert testimonies that back up its claim that Spotify is misrepresenting those deals. We look forward to finding out what those experts have to say.