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Domino comments on Four Tet settlement, insists no precedent set

By | Published on Thursday 23 June 2022

Four Tet

Domino Records has issued a statement following the news earlier this week that it had reached a settlement with Four Tet ending an on going legal battle over digital royalties. The label was keen to stress that it had made various previous efforts to settle the dispute, while also adding that – because the matter was settled out of court – no precedent has been set regarding how old record deals should be interpreted when it comes to sharing streaming money.

Four Tet, real name Kieran Hebden, sued Domino in a dispute over what royalty rate he should receive on streams. Although the Standard Royalty Provisions that accompanied his 2001 Domino record contract did talk about downloads – on which an 18% royalty was due – it didn’t mention streams. But the label had been applying that 18% rate to his streaming income too.

Hebden argued that streaming should be covered by provisions in his 2001 deal that dealt with licensing, on the basis Domino has a licensing deal relationship with the streaming services. And that would see him get 50% of the money.

Plenty of other artists on pre-digital deals have argued that record contract terms relating to licensing should be applied to streams when it comes to sharing streaming income, rather than using the royalty rates that were applied to the sale of physical recordings. It was very common in old record contracts for artists to get a significantly bigger cut of licensing income than sales income.

There have also been previous lawsuits on this issue, albeit mainly in the US. In this legal battle, Domino argued that Hebden’s interpretation of his old record contract was incorrect. Nevertheless, in its settlement with the musician, it has agreed to pay the 50% royalty rate on past and future digital income.

However, although a court hearing considered a side dispute in the case late last year, the core question over how to interpret old record contracts in the context of streaming was not discussed in court. So there is no legal precedent set. That said, because Hebden’s settlement was not confidential, it could encourage other artists stuck in similar old deals to seek to negotiate better royalty rates.

Commenting on the settlement in a statement issued to Billboard, the label said: “Domino are pleased that Kieran Hebden has chosen to settle his 2020 claim and accepted financial terms first offered to him in November 2021. Kieran’s claim arose from differing interpretations of specific clauses in a contract entered into by Kieran and Domino in 2001 in the pre-streaming era, and the application of those clauses to streaming income”.

“Since 2021”, it went on, “Kieran has added to and pursued his claim despite numerous attempts by Domino to settle the matter. Neither the courts, nor the settlement terms, have made any determination as to how streaming should be categorised or streaming income split. The case now having been settled, we are glad to be able to dedicate our full attention to resourcing and supporting our artists and we wish Kieran continued success in his career”.

This story is discussed on this edition of our Setlist podcast.