Moments After the NMPA Issues a Cease-and-Desist Against Spotify Over Lyrics, Podcasts, and Music Videos, Spotify Calls It ‘A Press Stunt Filled With False and Misleading Claims’

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Photo Credit: NMPA

Spotify is seriously pissing off music publishers – and not just with the mechanical-royalties decrease stemming from its newfound emphasis on bundling. But moments after the NMPA issued a cease-and-desist against the streaming platform over lyrics, podcasts, and music videos, Spotify called the move ‘a press stunt with false and misleading claims.’

The National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) first spoke out against Spotify’s audiobook-bundle reclassification last month, when CEO David Israelite publicly criticized the “cynical, and potentially unlawful, move.” In short, the pivot will see the platform pay a lower mechanical rate on the involved plans’ revenue – thereby reducing the appropriate royalties by as much as $150 million annually, per some estimates.

While that side of the intensifying dispute doesn’t seem any closer to resolving amicably, the confrontation is now spilling over into other areas. (Spotify has refuted the criticism with multiple statements as well as remarks delivered during its Q1 earnings call.)

Specifically, the NMPA is calling out the alleged “copyright infringement of our members’ musical works” when it comes to displayed lyrics, music videos, and more, according to a cease-and-desist letter sent to Spotify yesterday and shared with DMN.

After reiterating the basics of the “antiquated” compulsory license and the consent decrees governing ASCAP and BMI public performance licenses, the message, penned by NMPA EVP and general counsel Danielle Aguirre, zeroes in on the direct negotiations that must nevertheless precede “the use of lyrics and music in videos and podcasts.”

It has come to the NMPA’s attention, the firmly worded letter proceeds, “that Spotify displays lyrics and reproduces and distributes music videos and podcasts using musical works without the consent of or compensation to the respective publishers and administrators” in control of the copyrights at hand.

“As such, these uses of musical works on the Spotify platform are not licensed or will soon become unlicensed,” the to-the-point cease-and-desist reads in part.

Following that idea to its logical conclusion, “Spotify appears to be engaged in direct infringement by hosting unlicensed musical works in its lyrics, videos, and podcasts and by distributing unauthorized reproductions, synchronizations, displays, and derivative uses to its users,” the text spells out.

Reiterating for good measure that “Spotify profits from such infringement,” the letter calls on the growth-minded platform to remove the allegedly infringing lyrics, music videos, and podcasts or “face copyright liability.”

Not stopping there, the NMPA’s letter closer to its end shifts the focus to Spotify’s rumored “remix” feature, through which subscribers will be able to modify certain tracks “to create derivative works.”

“Spotify is on notice that releasing any such feature without the proper licenses in place from our members may constitute additional direct infringement,” the message states.

Given the timing of this formal notice – immediately following the start of the bundling dust-up – it can safely be said that Spotify has poked the publishing bear. One needn’t stretch the imagination to see how the corresponding dispute could ultimately have a far-reaching effect throughout the industry.

On that front, the Recording Academy’s Songwriters and Composers Wing has already offered a statement on the matter, saying it’s “disappointed” with Spotify’s alleged focus “on cutting costs at the expense of songwriters.”

“Songwriters provide the foundation of the music we love,” the appropriate Recording Academy wing communicated, “and they should always be paid fairly. The CRB settlement reached in 2022 marked a welcome step forward in cooperation between digital platforms and publishers.

“We are disappointed that Spotify appears to be focused on cutting costs at the expense of songwriters instead of continuing in that spirit of cooperation. The Recording Academy Songwriters + Composers Wing continues to stand with songwriters, and we will work to ensure they are fully valued and appropriately compensated for the work they do that enriches our lives,” the Grammys organizer finished.

Shortly after this piece was published, a Spotify spokesperson provided a statement (complete with the included hyperlinks) to DMN, criticizing the NMPA’s assessment and reiterating that the organization had agreed to and publicly touted 2022’s Phonorecords IV settlement.

It’s under the terms of that pact, which features bundle-classification adjustments and runs through 2027, that Spotify has moved to pay a lower mechanical rate on its joint music and audiobook plans. However, a music-only plan (subject to the original, higher rate) is also on the way, the service previously signaled.

“This letter is a press stunt filled with false and misleading claims,” the Spotify rep said. “It’s an attempt to deflect from the Phono IV deal that the NMPA agreed to and celebrated back in 2022. 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.”

More as this develops.