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Publishers Send Cease-and-Desist to Spotify over Unlicensed Content

The National Music Publishers Association sent a cease-and-desist letter to Spotify on Wednesday over allegations that the streaming giant is infringing their members’ musical works through lyrics, music videos and podcasts on the platform.

“NMPA demands that unlicensed lyrics, music videos, and podcasts be removed from the platform or Spotify will face copyright liability for continued use of these works,” the group said in its letter on Wednesday.

The NMPA is one of the largest trade associations in the music industry, representing the three major publishing companies (Sony Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing and Warner Chappell) along with many other independent publishers. The NMPA didn’t specify in the letter which publishers’ catalogs or what specific works were being infringed upon, and the trade group didn’t provide further details on those works when asked for comment.

Music copyright is a notoriously complicated web that has given way to several types of licenses needed for companies such as streaming services or film studios to use music legally. Aside from needing licenses for the music itself, there are separate licenses for the display of lyrics or for music to be synched to content like a music video or podcast.

The letter comes as tensions rise between Spotify and the NMPA over payouts. Publishers and songwriters are set to see a reduced royalty payment through many Spotify premium subscriptions as the company is bundling its music subscription with audiobooks. Because of the bundle in which Spotify is paying out for both music and books, the company purports to be eligible to pay a lesser royalty rate on mechanical royalties as part of a settlement the publishers and Spotify agreed to in 2022.

“Spotify once again has gone to war with songwriters. 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,” NMPA CEO David Israelite said in a statement. “Today we warned Spotify that they will be held accountable for infringement from using songs and lyrics in videos and podcasts which require licenses that it has not secured. Before Spotify’s ‘bundling’ betrayal, we may have been able to work together to fix this problem, but they have chosen the hard road by coming after songwriters once again.”

Other groups that represent songwriters such as Nashville Songwriters Association International and The Recording Academy’s Songwriters and Composers Wing have also voiced criticism at Spotify, with the latter group saying Wednesday that it was “disappointed that Spotify appears to be focused on cutting costs at the expense of songwriters instead of continuing in that spirit of cooperation.”

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Spotify balked at the NMPA’s claims Wednesday morning, with a spokesperson for the company calling the letter “a press stunt filled with false and misleading claims.”

“It’s an attempt to deflect from the … deal that the NMPA agreed to and celebrated back in 2022,” the spokesperson said. “We paid a record amount to benefit songwriters in 2023, and we are on track to exceed this amount in 2024. Spotify is a platform for licensed content. 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.”

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