As the big audiobooks bundling beef between Spotify and the US songwriters and music publishers continues to build, the National Music Publishers Association has sent a letter highlighting possible gaps in the streaming service’s licences. Or it’s instigated a “misleading press stunt” as part of the bundling beef, depending on who you believe.

“Spotify once again has gone to war with songwriters”, declares NMPA CEO David Israelite. “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”.

Honing in on the NMPA’s letter, he adds, “Today we warned Spotify that they will be held accountable for infringement from using songs and lyrics in videos and podcasts which require licences that it has not secured”.

However, a spokesperson for Spotify has dismissed the letter as “a press stunt filled with false and misleading claims”.

The aim, the streaming service rep says, is to “deflect” attention from the fact that the very licence that allows Spotify to define its main subscription product as a bundle in order to get a royalty discount was “celebrated” by the NMPA when it was agreed 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’s spokesperson adds, employing a bit of deflection of their own. 

“Spotify is a platform for licensed content”, they then insist. “We are committed to the integrity of our platform, and we have a clear process in place for rightsholders to contact Spotify about any content they believe is unlicensed”.

Israelite does concede that the licensing gap letter is connected to the bundling beef, but not - he says - as a deflection tactic. “Before Spotify’s ‘bundling’ betrayal, we may have been able to work together to fix this problem”, he declares, “but they have chosen the hard road by coming after songwriters once again”.

In the US, Spotify relies on two sets of licences to cover the songs contained in the recordings its users stream. The mechanical rights are covered by the compulsory licence available under US copyright law. It then sorts out the performing rights by getting licences from the collecting societies like BMI and ASCAP. 

It’s the compulsory licence - reviewed every five years by the Copyright Royalty Board - that allows the sneaky bundling trick Spotify recently employed. By launching a new audiobooks only subscription, and a music and podcasts option, Spotify is now defining its main premium subscription as a bundle of those two products. Which reduces what it has to pay songwriters and music publishers.

However, the compulsory licence does not cover songs that appear in videos or podcasts, or the display of written lyrics. The lyrics can normally be licensed via aggregators like LyricFind, but videos and podcasts would likely need licences from the music publishers (or in some countries the collecting societies). The NMPA seemingly reckons that not all of those licences are in place.

“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”, the trade body’s letter notes. “As such, these uses of musical works on the Spotify platform are not licensed or will soon become unlicensed”.

The letter also highlights the reports that Spotify is planning to offer remixing tools in yet another new subscription package. That, the NMPA says, would also require separate licences. 

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

The NMPA has already said that it is considering its legal options regarding Spotify’s sneaky bundling trick. It remains to be seen if the new allegations of licensing gaps also results in any formal legal proceedings.

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
You've successfully subscribed to CMU.
Your link has expired.
Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.
Success! Your billing info has been updated.
Your billing was not updated.
Privacy Policy