Jun 17, 2024 9 min read

📑 CMU Digest: Spotify, politics, merch fights + more

We've read ALL the election manifestos so you don't have to...

📑 CMU Digest: Spotify, politics, merch fights + more

CMU Digest is a weekly round-up of the most interesting music business news stories from the last seven days. 

This week: Spotify might finally launch its higher priced 'Supremium' offering - but will anyone actually want it? As we head into the UK's general election, we've read the manifestos of the main political parties so that you don't have to, and picked out what they have to say about music. Indie label 2Point9 is suing Sony-owned Ministry Of Sound Recordings. The 'Madonna is always late' lawsuits have taken an odd turn. Drake is sued over merch infringement, Pink Floyd is suing over merch infringement, and Merchbar is accused of owing thousands to merch companies

ICMYI: People still buy tickets last minute says Eventbrite; Shkreli's hidden Wu-Tang; artists don't understand their EU rights; Tonic Futures mental health initiative; not such an easy life for Hard Life

Also this week: BTS’s Jin trades military life for gruelling “hug event”


Spotify: analysts welcome price rises; 'supremium' rumours bubble; bundling controversy escalates

There were renewed rumours last week that a higher priced Spotify subscription tier - dubbed ‘Supremium’ - could launch later this year, offering higher quality audio and additional playlist tools. Despite the fact that the majority of any price increase would be paid out to the music industry, with ‘supremium’ apparently set to come in at 40% more than Spotify’s existing premium options it could boost Spotify’s overall revenues - and profits - which will please investors. Indeed, Spotify’s decision to instigate a second round of price increases on its other products has been well received by analysts. Exactly how much consumer appetite there would be for ‘supremium’ is debatable though, especially given Spotify’s competitors already offer higher quality audio as standard. 

Investors are also supportive of Spotify’s efforts to reduce its running costs, though one strategy for achieving that continues to be very controversial. Spotify has reclassified its premium product in the US as an audiobooks and music bundle, which means it can reduce what it pays songwriters and music publishers under the compulsory licence that covers song rights in the American market. This week the National Music Publishers Association urged the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general in various states to investigate the legality of that conduct, while three members of Congress wrote to the Copyright Office to express concern. 


UK political parties set out stances on music in General Election manifestos

As the UK’s General Election looms, the political parties all published their manifestos, making both generic and specific commitments to the music and wider cultural industries. The Labour Party, most likely to form the next UK government, said that when it is in power “arts and music will no longer be the preserve of a privileged few”. In terms of specifics, the manifesto mainly pointed to the previously published ‘creative industries sector plan’, although it did explicitly commit to ramp up regulation of ticket resale. 

The Greens probably have the most music community friendly commitments in their manifesto, including measures to overcome the issues UK artists have faced touring Europe post-Brexit, protections of creators in the context of AI and a pledge to exempt cultural events from VAT. The Liberal Democrats also make proposals to make post-Brexit touring easier and pledge to make arts subjects more of a priority in schools. And the Conservatives commit to a review of England’s night-time economy. Meanwhile, Nigel Farage’s Reform Party makes several references to culture - but those only extend as far as British Culture (which must be protected), Cancel Culture (which must be stopped), and Agriculture (which should scrap any climate-related subsidies).


UK independent label 2Point9 Records sues Sony Music's Ministry Of Sound Recordings

2Point9 released the 2008 Jay Sean track ‘Ride It’, which was subsequently remixed by DJ Regard and released by the Ministry label in 2019. In a new lawsuit, 2Point9 says that, as a remix, the Regard version of ‘Ride It’ “substantially sampled” the original, which it owns. However, Ministry never got a licence from the indie to exploit the copyright in the 2008 version of the track. 

Regard first remixed ‘Ride It’ in 2017, but Ministry got involved after it went massive on TikTok two years later. The Sony-owned label ultimately re-recorded the elements of the original that feature in the remix. However, the version it initially released in 2019 did sample the 2008 track without licence which - says 2Point9 - constitutes copyright infringement. It has gone legal, it says, after five years of negotiations failed.


One of Madonna's time-keeping lawsuits took a bizarre turn

Responding to the first of three lawsuits filed this years over Madonna’s slack time-keeping, Madonna and Live Nation accused the ticket-holders who filed the lawsuit of “harassment”. The musician and her promoter are accused of breach of contract, false advertising and negligent misrepresentation because her shows have an official start time of 8.30pm and she often doesn't start performing until after 10.30pm. Lawyers working for Madonna and Live Nation say those claims are ridiculous because everyone understands that, at pop concerts, the headline act doesn’t go on stage at start time. 

The allegations of “harassment” came after lawyers working for concert-goers Michael Fellows and Jonathan Hadden claimed that they had reached a settlement with Madonna and Live Nation, even filing a notice of settlement with the court. No such settlement had been reached and the false statement to the court, said Madonna and Live Nation’s legal team, was “part and parcel of an harassment campaign” aiming to “extort a lucrative settlement” out of the musician and live giant.


Merch: lawsuits, court orders and disputes for Drake, Pink Floyd and Merchbar 

Drake was accused of trademark infringement by American fashion company Members Only because he has been selling t-shirts at his shows with those words printed on them. That’s because Drake’s last album had a track on it called ‘Members Only’ and the t-shirt design is very different to anything sold by the Members Only clothing company. But, the owner of Members Only said in its lawsuit, that’s irrelevant, its trademarks have been infringed, and Drake and his company should pay damages. 

Earlier in the week, a US court ordered that the domain pinkfloydmerch.com should be disabled following a lawsuit filed by Pink Floyd’s UK-based company. It said that the operator of that website was selling unofficial merchandise that infringe the band’s trademarks. The lawsuit targets the company behind the site. However, with that company seemingly in China, where it might be tricky for Pink Floyd to enforce its legal rights, getting the domain disabled was also a key priority.  

Finally, in the world of merch, two Australian merchandise companies say they are together owed more than $250,000 from Merchbar, the music merchandise platform that also integrates with YouTube and Spotify. Those claims were made in a report by The Music Network. A spokesperson for Merchbar told the publication the claims were “simply not accurate”.


ICYMI:

🎟️ Ticketing company Eventbrite revealed that the trend of fans buying tickets closer to a show - which began during the COVID pandemic - has continued in the last year. As a result, some promoters have started putting tickets on sale at a later date.  According to Eventbrite’s stats, the average time between ticket purchase and show date on its platform in the US in 2022 was 25 days, whereas now it’s eighteen days. And 57% of tickets were sold in the week before the show in the first four months of this year. 

👐 Martin Shkreli has been ordered to hand over any copies still in his possession of the single-copy Wu-Tang Clan album he was forced to give up to pay off debts to the US government in 2021. This comes after its current owner, NFT company PleasrDAO, said Shkreli had told followers online that he has copies “hidden in safes all around the world”. In a court ruling last week, the judge overseeing the case, Pamela Chen, ordered Shkreli to provide an inventory of all the copies of the album he kept and anyone else to whom he gave copies. All remaining copies and files would then be seized, said the judge.

🇪🇺 The International Artist Organisation has undertaken an extensive survey of artists and musicians across Europe to assess the impact of the 2019 European Copyright Directive, which introduced a new set of rights for music-makers. It ultimately concludes that, while there have been some positive outcomes, there is a lot more work to be done, not least in making sure artists and musicians are even aware of the rights that were introduced. 

🏥 Mental health charity Tonic Music has announced a new programme called Tonic Futures. It will support the mental health of young people aged 18-25 who are taking their first steps in the music industry. The programme was developed based on research carried out by the charity. It found that more than a third of young people working in music have received a diagnosis of anxiety and/or depression. Higher numbers report experiencing these mental health conditions without a formal diagnosis. 

✈️ The band formerly known as Easy Life have returned with their first new music under new name Hard Life. The band were forced to drop their former moniker following a legal battle with easyGroup, which accused Easy Life of trademark infringement. New single ‘Tears’, says frontman Murray Matravers, was written about that legal run-in and “highlights the absurdity of the situation as well as thanking the people who have had my back throughout this whole ordeal”. It also directly references easyGroup owner Stelios Haji-Ioannou with the line, “It was easy in my 20s, now I gotta lawyer up, gimme airmiles or a fair trial Stelios”.


🎙 Setlist Podcast: Spotify referred to FTC over “unlawful conduct”

In this week's Setlist Podcast: Chris Cooke and Andy Malt discuss the latest escalation in the fight over Spotify’s reclassification of its premium subscription as an audiobook and music bundle in the US, the lawsuit against Drake for putting one of his own song titles on a t-shirt, and the return of the band formerly known as Easy Life, who have nothing to do with easyJet.

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


And Finally! BTS’s Jin trades military life for gruelling “hug event”

Time flies when you’re having fun, so I must have been having the time of my life since BTS member Jin joined the South Korean army. Having served his time in mandatory military service, he’s back in pop star mode again and kicked things off with an event that seemed more gruelling than anything his training as a soldier could have thrown at him.

It was announced earlier this month that Jin would be discharged from military service on 12 Jun, having been the first member of the group to enlist in December 2022. I think I’d like a bit of a rest after all that. Maybe a week. Or a month. Maybe the rest of the year. Surely there’s no rush to get back to work.

Perhaps it’s talk like that that’s held me back from becoming an international pop star, because Jin returned to duty immediately. He went from the army base straight to a livestream address to fans - still wearing his army uniform. And then the very next day he appeared at an event as part of the annual BTS Festa event, at which fans celebrate the day that BTS released their debut single in 2013. 

A little public appearance seems fine. A quick hello, maybe a wave. But that’s not what happened. What happened was that Jin stood on stage at Seoul’s Jamsil Sports Complex and hugged 1000 fans. 

👉 Read the full story and more of this week's funniest music news

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