Are Playlists Protected by Copyright? Spotify and Ministry of Sound Decide Out of Court

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Do playlists qualify for copyright protection?

Ministry of Sound is a dance music entertainment business.  They release albums, have an infamous nightclub, and throw giant parties.

Spotify users have been recreating Ministry of Sound (MoS) compilations via playlists.  These playlists not only copied ‘official’ tracklistings, they also used official artwork and the Ministry of Sound name.  The dance label sued Spotify after they failed to delete the playlists.

Now Ministry of Sound and Spotify have resolved their differences out of court.

The Guardian reports that Spotify will remove the questionable playlists from their search engine and disable the “follow” feature on them.  The playlists themselves will not be deleted.

All of which means that the issue of copyright protection for playlists remains untested in the courts.

10 Responses

  1. TuneHunter

    It is irrelevant case.
    Spotify has better playlists custom made for each user by The Echonest.
    Custom digging with full ownership is already part of any streaming – Pandora or Spotify style.

    • Nina Ulloa

      i would say spotify dance playlists are pretty shit compared to some of the labels who specialize in dance comps

      • TuneHunter

        The Echo Nest will improve software in short time to the level that nobody will miss Ministry of Sound.

  2. JeffC

    This is like trying to copyright a list of books you just read.
    It’s a question of vanity, not a question of law.

  3. Paul Resnikoff

    Very, very, very interesting question, I only wish a court could officially weigh in (and, I’m guessing it’s such a specialized question that it will never receive a legal precedent). But there’s a logical fallacy perhaps: just because compiling playlists requires lots of work and is an art in its own right, doesn’t necessarily mean it is protected or should be protected.

    The curator assembles others’ works, the gallery owner guides you through paintings in a progression or organization scheme that is elegant and makes sense. That is the product of passion and deep knowledge; but, does that mean a law should protect it?

    Still, I’m uneducated in the nuances of this case, and the fact that Spotify offered some concessions indicates that MoS may have had some legal standing. Then again, drag things out in the courtroom long enough, and everyone’s a loser (except for the lawyers, of course).

    • JeffC

      I don’t gamble, but I would still be willing to bet the concessions came as a result of “…and used its brand name and/or artwork.”
      …which would be akin to “Jeff’s New York Times BestSeller List” [though the NYT™ is a Trademark thing, not a copyright thing, so it’s a bad example in this context, just too busy to think harder about it right now… I think my idea is understood].
      And yes, of course it’s a holiday for lawyers… isn’t every day?

    • David

      UK (and EU) law may be stricter than US law in this area. (I don’t know what the US position would be, but I dare say there would be some malarkey about ‘fair use’. The UK law has a narrower concept of ‘fair dealing’.) UK law explicitly provides that a ‘literary work’ can include a ‘table or compilation’. The work must be ‘original’, but the bar for ‘originality’ is set pretty low. There is a recent case which went as far as the European Court of Justice, concerning whether a list of soccer fixtures could be protected by copyright. The ECJ said that the national (UK) court needed to consider whether the lists involved sufficient originality in the selection and arrangement of data, saying ‘ A football fixture list cannot be protected by copyright when its compilation is dictated by rules or constraints which leave no room for creative freedom’. (More here: ). A playlist of records is presumably not ‘dictated by rules or constraints which leave no room for creative freedom’, so my guess is that MoS would have quite a good case of winning in a UK copyright case.

      • Faza (TCM)

        With regards to playlists, it would probably also be a question of the manner in which they were complied. For example if you had a playlist of “Top 10 Tracks in 2012” – based on sales numbers or other chart data – that probably wouldn’t qualify for protection. On the other hand, a playlist of top 10 tracks based on a specific taste-maker’s subjective judgement would be.

        The right question to ask in this context is why Spotify were duplicating MoS playlists in the first place. Since we aren’t talking about objectively-compiled playlists (as in Top 10 of 2012 example above) – which could be arrived at independently by many parties privy to the same data – we must assume that Spotify thought that MoS playlists have some value as compilations, over and above some random person at Spotify compiling their own subjective playlists. That MoS thought their compilations have value goes without saying (they wouldn’t be making them otherwise). Since both parties are in agreement that MoS playlists have value, there is no good reason for a court not to recognise that this value is created by virtue of the work put in by MoS into compiling those playlists and that entitles MoS to have a say in who gets to use this work and on what terms.

        For all the philosophical musings, this is just another example of one business (Spotify) trying to piggyback on the work of another (MoS) without compensation. Remember: they can always make their own playlists.

  4. Yep

    If this ever goes to court and the a precedent is set for IP within ‘compilations’ it would be a disaster for the music business.

    The physical ‘album’ is dead (or dying) With that, goes any locking down of any collection of music.

    Everyone, from fans to record labels are free to ‘compile’ any ‘album’ or ‘playlist’ and promote that within the services. If the labels are clever they should license and control as many recordings as possible.