This week: The US government files an explosive lawsuit against Live Nation demanding it sell Ticketmaster; The music publishers call for another rewrite of American copyright law; Parklife founder Sacha Lord drops his threat to sue The Manchester Mill for libel as the Arts Council investigates COVID funding bid; The Leadmill landlord dispute gets to court but is then adjourned; Sony Music sues and is sued over allegations of copyright infringement

ICYMI: Utopia rebrands and downsizes; SXSW’s grand plan to launch in London causes concern in the music industry; The latest ‘Music In The Air’ report from Goldman Sachs; Round Hill Music accused of bullying in lawsuit filed by former business partner; Universal Music and Lucian Grainge dropped as defendants from headline-grabbing Diddy litigation

Plus: This week’s Setlist podcast explains all the latest developments in the ongoing dispute between Spotify and the music publishers over the streaming service’s bundling tricks 


The US government is suing Live Nation in an anticompetition lawsuit which could force the live giant to sell Ticketmaster

The explosive lawsuit filed by the US Department Of Justice follows a lengthy investigation into allegations of anticompetitive conduct made against the live giant. The legal filing outlines Live Nation’s dominant position in artist and venue management, tour promotion and ticketing, before alleging that it has used that dominance to “freeze innovation and bend the industry to its own benefit”. 

Live Nation’s operations are already subject to a consent decree agreed with the DoJ when the Live Nation venue and tours business merged with Ticketmaster in 2010. That consent decree restricts the way different stands of Live Nation interact. Last time the DoJ investigated claims of anticompetitive behaviour against the live music firm, the outcome was a revision and extension of the consent decree. This time the government is seeking more dramatic remedies, including the forced sale of Ticketmaster. “It is time to break up Live Nation-Ticketmaster”, US Attorney General Merrick Garland declared. 

Live Nation’s EVP Corporate And Regulatory Affairs Dan Wall hit back at the lawsuit, claiming it was politically motivated and the result of a “long-term lobbying campaign from rivals and ticket brokers”. He said that the claim Live Nation is “wielding monopoly power” is “absurd”, and that the remedies proposed by the DoJ won’t address any of the issues in the live entertainment and ticketing market.


The trade body for American music publishers wrote to the Judiciary committees of the US Senate and House Of Representatives asking that the law be changed so that publishers can opt-out of the compulsory licence currently relied upon by streaming services in the US. That would mean streaming services would need to negotiate bespoke licensing deals with those publishers, rather than relying on the statutory blanket licence, the terms of which are set by the Copyright Royalty Board every five years. 

The request came as part of the ongoing dispute between the publishers and Spotify over its decision to reclassify its main subscription product as a music and audiobooks bundle. Spotify is seeking to exploit a bundling provision in the compulsory licence that reduces its song royalty commitments. 

At an event in London, NMPA CEO David Isrealite said that, in 2018, the publishers worked with the streaming services to fix issues with the compulsory licence via the Music Modernization Act. That helped the services, he added, and yet Spotify has still tried to reduce its payments under that licence, first by appealing a rate increase set by the CRB and now with the bundling trick. “Spotify is not a business partner”, he declared, and its attacks on songwriters demonstrate further reforms are required. 

The collecting society that administers the compulsory licence, the MLC, has already sued Spotify over the reclassification of its main subscription product, arguing that the addition of audiobooks doesn’t meet the requirements to qualify for the discount. Sony Music Publishing joined the NMPA in welcoming that legal action, adding that it is also “considering all its options” in fighting Spotify’s bundling tactics.


Parklife founder Sacha Lord threatened to sue The Manchester Mill for libel, then dropped his action as he faces investigations by the Arts Council and the Great Manchester Combined Authority

Lord - who is also Greater Manchester’s Night Time Economy Advisor and Chair of the Night Time Industries Association - had threatened to sue online publication The Manchester Mill over its reporting on a COVID Culture Recovery Fund grant application he was involved in. Funding was secured during the pandemic by a company called Primary Event Solutions Limited, of which Lord was a director and shareholder. The business was subsequently wound up. 

In a statement, Lord said that the news report alleged his company had “deliberately lied in its Culture Recovery Fund application, that I am a dishonest person, and that I have misused over £400,000 of public money”, with Lord going on to say the allegations “are all false”. His lawyers had initially threatened a libel action and demanded that The Manchester Mill remove its report and publish an apology. The publication refused to do so and instead doubled down on its investigation. 

It then emerged that the Arts Council was “conducting additional checks on the application from Primary Event Solutions” and that Greater Manchester Combined Authority - where Lord has his night-time economy role - would begin its own “factfinding exercise”. Lord stated he is cooperating with those investigations, and, in the meantime, has “decided not to pursue legal action” against The Manchester Mill “for the time being”.


A legal battle between Phil Mills, the current operator of Sheffield venue The Leadmill, and his landlord The Electric Group reached a court in Leeds last week. The Electric Group, which runs a small network of venues around the UK, wants to directly manage The Leadmill, it owning the building that houses the venue. But Mills and his team have so far refused to vacate the premises, resulting in The Electric Group launching eviction proceedings. 

In court last week, lawyers for Mills presented human rights arguments, stating that - because it plans to run its own venue in the Leadmill building - The Electric Group will be unfairly exploiting goodwill built up by the existing team. Lawyers representing the landlord pushed back on the claim human rights were being violated, stating “With respect to my learned friend, he's reading far too much into it”.

Mills’ lawyers also asked for the case to be adjourned, arguing that more time was needed to consider the arguments than had been scheduled. The judge ultimately agreed to the adjournment, pushing the hearing back to later this year or even 2025. Mills’ team claimed the adjournment as a legal win, stating on social media that “We have won our first battle in court and taken one step closer in our bid for survival in the eviction battle against the landlord”.


The major music company sued the Marriott hotel business over its use of music in social media posts without licence. In a lawsuit, Sony said its recordings had appeared, without permission, in videos posted by the Marriott’s own marketing teams, by companies that utilise the Marriott’s hotel brands under licence, and by influencers hired by the hotel operator. Although TikTok and Instagram have wide-ranging licences with the music industry, those only cover user-generated content. Brands need to negotiate bespoke sync deals or use tracks specifically cleared by the platforms for brand content. Marriott’s competitors understand this, Sony’s lawsuit said, but the hotel company instead chose to infringe copyright. 

Sony Music itself was sued for copyright infringement alongside Beyoncé over a sample on her 2022 hit ‘Break My Soul’. The sample came from a Big Freedia track called ‘Explode’ and was properly licensed. However, in a new lawsuit, a group called Da Showstoppaz claim that Big Freedia lifted lyrics from one of their songs without permission. Which means both ‘Explode’ and ‘Break My Soul’ infringe their copyright. Sony, Beyoncé and Big Freedia are all named as defendants on the lawsuit, in which Da Showstoppaz seek co-writer credits on and royalties from both ‘Explode’ and ‘Break My Soul’. 


ICYMI:

The Utopian misadventure is effectively over. Utopia Music AG is now Proper Group AG, and will shutter most of its non-UK operations, as part a radical downsizing. With its new name comes a “new era”. And, of course, in best Utopian traditions there’s a transition at the top as current CEO Michael Stebler - orchestrator of the investor-led 'Christmas Coup' - steps aside, having spent the past few months undertaking a radical restructuring and recapitalisation of the business in an attempt to get it back on track.

SXSW is coming to London backed by a shadowy web of offshore companies, endorsed by the Mayor of London - and with a PR boss who conveniently worked as a senior press advisor in the London mayor’s office for sixteen years. The announcement drew a number of positive responses on social media from some quarters of the music industry. However, it became clear to CMU over the course of wide ranging conversations with senior representatives of industry stakeholders that SXSW’s proposed entry into London was not regarded as a wholly positive move. One senior executive told CMU “they need to pick a different date”.

Goldman Sachs has published its annual ‘Music In The Air’ report, reviewing the wider music sector and making predictions through to 2030. Streaming price rises, AI and superfan opportunities, and a resurgent live sector mean the investment bank has increased their predicted annual growth rate to 7.6%. The bank's analysts have dubbed 2023 “a turning point for the music industry”, highlighting the first major round of price increases at the streaming services, changes to the way streaming revenues are allocated to tracks and catalogues, and the evolution of generative AI.

Round Hill Music is being sued by sync agency Zync over a joint venture the two companies entered into in 2017. The legal filling makes a number of allegations, including misstating income and expenses, bullying, and trademark infringement. However, Round Hill has issue a statement saying that it “denies the allegations in the complaint” calling them “specious and salacious” and that they are “being used by Zync as a substitute for the failing merits of its case”.

Universal Music and its CEO Lucian Grainge have been dropped as defendants in a sexual harassment and assault lawsuit brought against Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs. The lawyer acting for producer Rodney ‘Lil Rod’ Jones - Tyrone Blackburn - said that, having read Universal’s response to his client’s lawsuit, he had “concluded that there is no legal basis for the claims and allegations that were made against the UMG defendants”.


🎙 Setlist Podcast: “Spotify is not a business partner”, says NMPA boss

In this week's Setlist Podcast: Chris Cooke and Andy Malt discuss the battle between the music publishers and Spotify as it ramps up another gear, Sony Music's lawsuit accusing the Marriott hotel chain of “rampant” copyright infringement, and more.

Click here to listen - or search for 'Setlist Podcast'


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