For music listeners, Spotify has become almost ubiquitous. The service offers users access to a vast catalog of songs on demand and at their fingertips. And fans of music and podcasts are overwhelmingly taking advantage of the easy-to-use service — a recent story puts their subscriber base at 7o million users. But if the streaming era of media has taught us anything, it is that digital rights can prove problematic in the relationship between artist and platform, and music has proven no exception.
Spotify is facing a $1.6 billion lawsuit from Wixen Music Publishing for allegedly using the works of Wixen artists, who include Tom Petty, the Doors, Stevie Nicks, and Neil Young, without permission. The suit claims that Spotify didn't obtain the necessary licenses to reproduce and distribute the works of their artists. The suit additionally alleges that Spotify has failed to do the work of obtaining the rights to the song compositions as it did with the sound recordings when it reached licensing deals with many of the major recording labels.
Managing a huge library of musical works provides plenty of opportunity for failure when it comes to securing rights and paying proper royalties to artists for their works. Spotify has faced numerous lawsuits over the course of its existence related to copyright infringement and compensation, and in May 2017 paid out a $43 million settlement on a class action lawsuit to that effect, a lawsuit that Wixen declined to participate in out of a belief that the terms of the settlement were inadequate.
For the many missteps and failings, services such as Spotify and Pandora do represent a step forward from the days of Napster and peer-to-peer file sharing, when users had no compunction about downloading the works of any artist with no thought given to things like rights or payment. While good intentions don't absolve the sins of any company or individual, recognition of the existence and importance of copyright as it pertains to artists is an important benchmark of the digital age.