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Four Tet hits out at Domino for removing his albums from streaming services as legal battle over digital royalties continues

By | Published on Monday 22 November 2021

Four Tet

Kieran Hebden – aka Four Tet – has hit out at Domino Records for removing three of his albums from streaming services, allegedly because of the ongoing legal battle between the musician and the indie label.

It emerged in August that Hebden had sued Domino over the digital royalties it is paying him on albums that stem from a 2001 record deal, and a record contract that didn’t specifically talk about streaming. The musician argues that, under the terms of that contact, he should be receiving a 50% share of all or most of the digital income generated by those records, but the label is paying him an 18% share.

However, Domino argues that that’s an incorrect interpretation of the contract, and that a term covering downloads in that deal should also be applied to streams, which is where the 18% royalty rate comes from.

Meanwhile, when the contract talks about paying Hebden a 50% share of monies stemming from international licensing deals, that – the label says – specifically covers what would happen if Domino ever allowed another label to release his music in another market under licence, and is not a term that should apply to any digital licensing deals outside the UK.

The legal dispute is ongoing and is due to head to court in January. The litigation is also why three of Hebden’s Domino released albums are no longer available to stream, or at least so says the musician on Twitter.

He wrote this weekend: “I’m so upset to see that Domino Records have removed the three albums of mine they own from digital and streaming services. This is heartbreaking to me. People are reaching out asking why they can’t stream the music and I’m sad to have to say that it’s out of my control”.

“I have an ongoing legal dispute with Domino over the rate they pay me for streaming that is due to be heard in court on 18 Jan”, he goes on. “Earlier this week, Domino’s legal representative said they would remove my music from all digital services in order to stop the case progressing. I did not agree to them taking this action and I’m truly shocked that it has come to this”.

“I signed with Domino over 20 years ago, in a different time before streaming and downloads were something we thought about”, he continues. “I considered the people who ran Domino to be my friends and to be driven by trying to create a great musical community. As a result, Domino own three of my albums forever. Music I created that’s important to me and to many of you too”.

“I believe there is an issue within the music industry on how the money is being shared out in the streaming era and I think it’s time for artists to be able to ask for a fairer deal”, he adds. “It’s time to try and make changes where we can. I’m not driven by the money, but I have to make a stand when I am experiencing something that’s simply unfair”.

The legal battle between Hebden and Domino comes at a time, of course, when artist/label relationships – and especially how old record deals are interpreted when music consumption habits change – are very much in the spotlight, thanks to the UK Parliament’s Economics Of Streaming inquiry, and the #brokenrecord and #fixstreaming campaigns.

At the end of that inquiry, Parliament’s culture select committee made a number of recommendations for how copyright law could be changed to empower artists in that domain. That included a contract adjustment mechanism that would allow artists to force a renegotiation of old deals, and a reversion right via which artists could take ownership of copyrights from former label partners after a period of time.

And, of course, there is the proposal that at least some digital income flow directly to artists via the collective licensing system – as currently happens with radio royalties – rather than all the money going to a label or distributor, with artist pay outs entirely subject to contract.

Responding to Parliament’s inquiry, the UK government said that all three of those proposals needed more consideration, and to that end the Intellectual Property Office is in the process of commissioning some research. However, culture select committee member Kevin Brennan MP is putting his own proposals forward to Parliament as a private members bill, which would instigate some of those copyright reforms sooner.

Brennan posted on Twitter this weekend to argue that Hebden’s run in with Domino demonstrates why those reforms are needed.

Quoting Hebden’s tweets, he stated: “This thread shows exactly why my bill is needed – artist challenges record company on low rate paid for their music based on contract from before streaming even existed – label response? Remove his music from streaming platforms! That’s why the campaign is called #brokenrecord”.