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Spotify sued for US$1.6 billion by The Doors, Neil Young publisher over copyright

Neil Young performs during the 30th Anniversary Bridge School Benefit Concert at Shoreline Amphitheatre on Oct. 23, 2016 in Mountain View, Calif.
Neil Young performs during the 30th Anniversary Bridge School Benefit Concert at Shoreline Amphitheatre on Oct. 23, 2016 in Mountain View, Calif. C Flanigan/FilmMagi

Streaming giant Spotify is facing a huge US$1.6-billion lawsuit, filed by music composition administrator Wixen Music Publishing, which contends the music site is using tens of thousands of songs without compensation or licensing.

The lawsuit, filed in California federal court, involves songs by Canadian folk legend Neil Young, the late Tom Petty, Weezer, The Doors, the Black Keys, Rage Against the Machine and many others. Some noted songs include The Doors’ Light My Fire and Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’.

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The full complaint can be read below.

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Wixen filed the lawsuit on Dec. 29 and is seeking at least $1.6 billion, in addition to injunctive relief.

Spotify has been embroiled in copyright issues in the past: in May of last year, the company came to a proposed $43-million settlement to resolve a class action copyright lawsuit filed by multiple songwriters. The group claimed that Spotify was knowingly distributing songs without paying for mechanical licences. This settlement still hasn’t been approved by a judge and is outstanding.

The streaming service got hit with another two lawsuits in July. Like the earlier case, these ones held that Spotify hadn’t fully complied with obligations under Section 115 of the U.S. Copyright Act. Essentially, the complainants said that Spotify was reproducing songs on its platform without setting out a “notice of intention” and making payments for the songs’ usage.

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In Wixen’s lawsuit, the company alleges that Spotify “brazenly disregards United States Copyright law.”

“Spotify brazenly disregards United States Copyright law and has committed willful, ongoing copyright infringement,” reads the complaint. “Wixen notified Spotify that it had neither obtained a direct or compulsory mechanical license for the use of the Works. For these reasons and the foregoing, Wixen is entitled to the maximum statutory relief.”

According to the documents filed by Wixen, Spotify has approximately 30 million songs in its catalogue, and they allege that the company has infringed nearly 6,300,000 of them, or around 21 per cent of its roster.

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Spotify has not yet replied to the lawsuit, but it may opt to use an argument it’s relied on in the past: that “streaming” doesn’t imply reproduction nor distribution rights under copyright law, per se.

Global News has reached out to Spotify for further comment.