Spotify’s Ongoing Battle With Songwriters is a PR Nightmare

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In an open letter to Spotify, a group of prolific songwriters — from R&B legend Babyface to country music king Shane McAnally — claimed that they were “hurt and disappointed”.

“Do the right thing,” they demanded of Spotify, “drop your appeal of the Copyright Royalty Board rate determination.”

The open letter is just the latest development in an ongoing “cold war” between more than a dozen songwriters and publishers against music streaming giant Spotify, one that seems defined by the artistic bloc’s determination to receive their second meaningful pay increase in more than a century.

Last month, Spotify, Amazon, Pandora, and Google appealed a ruling by the Copyright Royalty Board after it voted to increase the amounts that songwriters were entitled to make from interactive streaming by more than 40 percent over the next five years. In a statement, the firms claimed that such a raise would harm “both music licensees and copyright owners.”

Writers and publishers have been left furious by the corporate lot’s decision to appeal the move, with much of the heat directed at Spotify amid accusations of betrayal of trust, “bullying the little man [and woman]”, spreading misinformation and even taking part in intimidation behind the scenes. Spotify has thus far declined to comment.

Such a break between Spotify and the music community seems abrupt; both groups only recently worked together to pass the Music Modernization Act last September, which was hailed by the Recording Academy as the “most sweeping music copyright reform since the 8-track tape era.”

Before the bill was signed into law in October, the Copyright Royalty Body voted to give songwriters a raise. Spotify’s opposition to the raise seems to cut deep, especially as the songwriting community has largely come to regard the platform as an ally in an otherwise hostile corporate streaming industry.

Said one songwriter: “No one ever expected YouTube, Amazon or Pandora to care about songwriter royalties or raising the rates — in the history of this, they’ve always fought to lower the rates and have never been friends of writers and publishers.”

In contrast, Spotify “has taken great pains to ingratiate themselves with the songwriting community recently,” says one music industry executive. “Not just with the Secret Genius awards [which elevated writers and producers whose songs were streaming hits] — they put up enormous amounts of resources to put songwriter credits on their service.” As a result, says another writer, Spotify’s action “hurts differently.”  

Spotify really cannot afford to have further damaging ties with its support base; an ongoing feud with Apple about the latter firm’s alleged anti-competitive behavior looks set to come to a head with the recent launch of Apple’s new subscription offering on March 25. Any move to alienate the songwriting community may spell the beginning of the end of this former ally of the creative world.

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