Image by Stephanie Sian Smith
Four Tet (Kieran Hebden) is the latest in a string of artists to take legal action against royalty disputes in the streaming era. The English musician has laid a claim for damages against former label Domino based on royalties for the downloading and streaming of his music.
According to Music Week, Hebden’s claim is based on his original contract with the independent label in the early 2000’s, during which time he released three albums, eight singles, two EPs and one live album for Domino. This contract was signed in 2001, a time when streaming services such as Spotify or Apple Music accounted for very little compared to pure sales or direct downloads. Under this contract, Hebden’s royalties are calculated on by the standard of the time; 18% for record sales, a figure which Domino has applied to calculating Hebden’s streaming royalties. This is in stark comparison to the 50% royalty rates for streaming that Hebden is demanding, a figure he claims is comparable to the rates offered to artists by Domino’s competitors.
Hebden’s case is built around the following clause in the 2001 Domino contract:
“In respect of the exploitation of the Masters and any videos embodying the Masters and received by us from our licensees outside the UK we shall credit your audio and audio-visual royalty accounts respectively with 50% of all royalties and fees arising from such exploitation.”
In defence, Domino is pointing to another clause in the same contract. This states that in the case of “records sold in new technology formats other than vinyl, Compact Discs and analogue tape cassettes the royalty rate shall be 75% of the otherwise applicable rate.” In this case, Domino considers streaming a “new technology” that is equivalent to downloads or digital sales. Additionally, Domino is claiming to have over-compensated Hebden by paying him 18% of royalties from streaming, rather than the 75% of that percentage as specified by the contact’s new technology clause.
Thus far, both parties have been unable to come to an agreement. As a result, the case is likely to be taken to the High Court. This would set a new precedent for such cases in the future, as Hebden is believed to be one of the first artists to pursue his case all the way to High Court judgment. Should he be successful, Hebden’s case will be looked towards as the new standard for the resolution of similar future disputes.