Music Playlists Are the Latest Battleground in Digital Copyright Law

As the United States works to modernize its copyright laws, another novel digital copyright issue has popped up in the United Kingdom. Music label Ministry of Sound alleges that Spotify committed copyright infringement by allowing users to create playlists that mirror Ministry of Sound’s compilation albums.

As reported by the Guardian, the suit seeks an injunction requiring the streaming music service to remove the offending playlists and prevent the creation of future playlists that infringe the music label’s copyrights. It also seeks monetary damages.

Spotify holds licenses to stream all of the songs on the playlists in dispute. The issue is whether the order of the songs can be protected under UK law. “What we do is a lot more than putting playlists together: a lot of research goes into creating our compilation albums, and the intellectual property involved in that. It’s not appropriate for someone to just cut and paste them,” said Ministry of Sound CEO Lohan Presencer.

In the United States, compilations can be protected under the Copyright Act. To qualify, a work must be formed by the “collection and assembling of preexisting materials or of data that are selected in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship.”

Thus, not all compilations qualify for copyright protection. As explained by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, “When the collecting of the preexisting material that makes up the compilation is a purely mechanical task with no element of original selection, coordination, or arrangement, such as a white-pages telephone directory, copyright protection for the compilation is not available.”

The Spotify lawsuit is an interesting copyright test case for online play lists. Under UK law, the primary question will also be whether Ministry of Sound’s song orders are original enough to warrant copyright protection.


If you need any help with Intellectual Property issues or advice regarding how best to protect your inventions, ideas or your brand, please contact me at 1-855-UR IDEAS (1-855-874-3327). Stay up-to-date on the latest Intellectual Property Law news from Sheldon Mak & Anderson.


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