Eminem’s Publisher Sues Spotify For Copyright Infringement

August 22, 2019, 3:57 PM UTC

Eminem’s publisher has filed a massive copyright infringement lawsuit against Spotify, alleging that the music streaming giant has grossly infringed on hundreds of the rapper’s copyrights. The suit by Eight Mile Style, filed in federal court in Nashville on Wednesday, also calls into question the larger constitutionality of a recently passed music licensing law.

Two hundred forty-three different works from the rapper’s extensive hits catalog—like “Stan,” “Lose Yourself,” “The Real Slim Shady,” and “My Name Is”—have been streamed billions of times without appropriate payment to Eight Mile Style, according to the suit.

Instead of going through the proper channels to secure licenses for such songs, or doing its due diligence in determining who owned them to begin with, Spotify had remitted “random payments of some sort, which only purport to account for a fraction of those streams,” reads the suit. This suit contends that this sideways system of compensation was in part enabled by Spotify deceptively pretending to have compulsory license to reproduce the songs, which it did not.

In the case of “Lose Yourself,” specifically mentioned in the suit, Spotify placed the song in a “copyright control” category intended for songs whose copyright owner is not known, making it more difficult to license the song. The idea that Eight Mile couldn’t be identified as the owner of the song—for which Eminem won an Oscar (after making it the centerpiece of his 2002 movie 8 Mile) and climbed atop the Billboard Hot 100—is branded by the suit as patently “absurd.”

Eight Mile also notes that Eminem is one of the streaming service’s most popular artists, with 32 million followers, further casting doubt on the service’s implicit claim not to have recognized his music. They “knew what they were doing,” reads the suit.

If the courts decide in Eight Mile’s favor, Spotify could be held liable for $150,000 per song, leaving it on the hook for around $36 million—just for infringing songs. But the suit goes a step further, claiming that because Spotify built its business on infringed copyrights, the plaintiffs are owed a portion of Spotify’s profits. Included in the damages sought by Eight Mile are “advertising revenue and the value of the equity interest Eight Mile was deprived of by virtue of the infringement.” Spotify, which went public last year, is currently worth around $26.2 billion, meaning those kinds of damages could stack into the billions.

Eight Mile’s suit also takes aim at the recent Music Modernization Act, passed last October in a largely praised effort to improve songwriters’ abilities to recoup royalty payments. While alleging that Spotify has not been in compliance with the law, the suit also assails the constitutionality of the law itself, calling into question what it sees as serious loopholes Spotify has exploited.

“First, by its terms, the MMA liability limitation section only applies to compositions for which the copyright owner was not known, and to previously unmatched works (compositions not previously matched with sound recordings), and not to ‘matched’ works for which the DMP [Digital Music Provider] knew who the copyright owner was and just committed copyright infringement,” Eight Mile’s complaint contends, asserting that Spotify simply “did not engage in the required commercially reasonable efforts to match sound recordings with the Eight Mile Compositions as required by the MMA.”

To translate that: the MMA essentially offered entities like Spotify a form of amnesty for past copyright infringements, and it’s that part of the law that Eight Mile is specifically critiquing, because it gives the streaming giant a pass for willful infringements.

Eight Mile says that Spotify intentionally infringed on the company’s copyright and that the “unconstitutional taking of Eight Mile’s and others vested property right was not for public use but instead for the private gain of private companies.” Given this, exemption by the MMA—which, in some much-disputed wording, has prohibited copyright infringement action against Spotify since the start of 2018—would seem to shield the company from the consequences of unconvincingly playing dumb.

“The MMA’s retroactive elimination of the right of a plaintiff to receive profits attributable to infringement, statutory damages, and attorneys’ fees, is an unconstitutional denial of due process (both procedural and substantive), and an unconstitutional taking of vested property rights,” the suit contends.

Spotify previously settled a previous copyright violation suit filed by Wixen, which reps artists like Tom Petty and Neil Young. Wixen sought $1.6 billion, but the terms of the ultimate settlement were not made public.

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