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Dance music label Ministry of Sound (MoS) launched on 2 September proceedings against the music streaming service Spotify, asking the UK High Court for an injunction in order to force Spotify to remove playlists made by Spotify users that exactly match the content and sequencing of MoS' dance music compilation albums.
Spotify does have a licence to use the tracks featured within the MoS compilations, which constitute a major part of the MoS business model, and indeed, MoS is not the rightsholder for the majority of the tracks used in its own compilations. MoS' complaint is that Spotify users mimic through their own playlist creations the exact order and content of MoS albums; in some cases, the Spotify user playlists even include the term 'Ministry of Sound' in the playlist titles. This activity has prompted MoS' Chief Executive, Lohan Presencer, to argue that "The value and creativity in our compilations are self-evident. It's not appropriate for someone to just cut and paste them."
MoS' argument hinges on the concept of the compilation and whether copyright exists in the particular sequencing of tracks determined by DJs working for MoS. MoS of course is firm in its belief that creating a compilation out of tracks - even where MoS doesn't own the copyright to those tracks - is a creative process in itself, one that requires research and a certain amount of skill on the part of the curator to determine appropriate sequencing. And the public seems to agree that there is value and originality in what MoS does, as MoS compilation albums sell well. Yet will the UK High Court agree that copyright can be found in an ordering of tracks?
MoS has pointed to the Football DataCo case as precedent to its own proceedings, arguing that Spotify breaches database rights through its user playlists. In the Football DataCo case, the Court of Justice of the European Union ('CJEU') declared that database copyright did not exist in the football fixture lists of the English and Scottish football leagues, because of the lack of originality shown when creating the fixture lists, despite the labour needed to do so; the CJEU's decision was then accepted by the leagues - the claimants in the case - when the case was passed to the UK's Court of Appeal. Things may work out differently in MoS v. Spotify if MoS can show that there is sufficient originality in the arrangement of its compilations. On the other hand, the EU Database Directive says that in general, recordings of music collected together should not be held to be under the Directive's protection.
While it's difficult to predict what the UK High Court will make of MoS' claims, commentators agree that this will be an important decision, with potential consequences for MoS' business model if things go in Spotify's favour.