Four Tet’s Streaming Royalties Dispute With Domino: What’s Going On and Why It Matters

In bringing the lawsuit, Four Tet asked for damages of up to £70,000 (about $95,000) plus costs. Hebden also seeks a court judgment over the 50 percent royalty rate. If a judge determines that the contract doesn’t cover streams and other digital formats, then Four Tet should’ve received a “reasonable market rate” for them, according to the musician’s legal arguments.

As noted by UK music trade outlet Complete Music Update, the litigation fits into a long-running debate over whether digital formats represent a “sale” or a “license” under the terms of analog-era contracts. Lawsuits have been waged over this issue since the iTunes era. In 2009, Eminem’s former producers F.B.T. Productions lost one such royalty case against label giant Universal Music Group. Almost a decade later, Enrique Iglesias launched a similar lawsuit against Universal, except over streaming royalties; according to online court documents, the two sides soon reached a confidential settlement.

Four Tet’s case wasn’t visible until the middle of last year, after Domino’s February 2021 defense filing became public. Domino argued that Four Tet wasn’t entitled to a 50 percent rate for streaming royalties. The label reportedly pointed to another contractual provision that sets a rate for “new technology formats” that is 75 percent of “the otherwise applicable rate.” Domino argued that although it had paid Hebden an 18 percent rate for his digital catalog “on a discretionary basis,” it had only been obligated to pay a chunk of that. The label also reportedly asserted that the rate for streaming and downloads would be the same, contending that “a stream is always technically a download of data packets.” Plus, Domino argued that streaming wasn’t a mainstream distribution method at the time of the 2001 contract and wasn’t then being contemplated by either it or Hebden.

The matter came to a head last fall when Domino scrubbed Pause, Rounds, and Everything Is Ecstatic—reportedly the three studio albums covered by Four Tet’s deal with the indie—from services such as Spotify and Apple Music. (Four Tet’s 2010 album There Is Love in You, although initially released on Domino, was apparently not part of the same contract.) Hebden tweeted that Domino’s lawyers had “said they would remove [his] music from all digital services in order to stop the case progressing.” Caribou’s Dan Snaith, another former Domino-signed electronic artist, voiced support for Hebden, tweeting that the albums’ removal was “a desperate and vindictive act.” Snaith wrote that Four Tet was “motivated by setting a fair precedent for other artists in similar situations, rather than by his own self interest.”

A couple of UK music trade groups also weighed in on Hebden’s behalf. The CEOs of the Music Managers Forum, an association of professional music managers, and the Featured Artists Coalition, which lobbies for music artists’ rights, issued a joint statement that slams the takedown as “misguided and self-defeating.”

Following the outcry, Domino said in a statement that it was “just as saddened” about the situation. “The decision to temporarily remove the three Four Tet albums from digital services was not taken lightly,” the statement reads “We were advised to do so as a necessary consequence of [Hebden’s] litigation at this time.” Since the legal proceedings began in December 2020, according to the statement, Domino had offered to mediate but Four Tet’s camp had “rebuffed” them. “We have continued trying to re-engage with them to find a solution to this dispute: one that is fair to both sides, but to no avail,” Domino said. “Through all of this, we have been and continue to be open to discussion and mediation. While we are equally as disheartened to have to take these steps, we remain hopeful that an amicable solution can be reached in the future. Our door is now and will always be open for further discussion with [Hebden].”

Source : Pitchfork