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Four Tet signs to Universal Music Publishing, Domino albums streaming again

By and | Published on Tuesday 8 February 2022

Four Tet

Universal Music Publishing has signed Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet, to a new global publishing deal as his legal dispute with former label Domino on the recordings side continues to go through the motions. Although the albums removed from the streaming services as part of that dispute are back online.

“Four Tet has soundtracked my life from GCSE revision to dancefloors at university and now I get the pleasure to work with him”, says A&R Director at Universal’s publishing business, Pete Simmons. “I’m honoured to represent a catalogue that means so much to not just me but the whole of UMPG”.

Hebden’s legal battle with Domino has been under way for over a year now. He argues that under the terms of his 2001 record deal with the indie he should be getting a 50% royalty on all or most of the monies generated by the streaming of the records he made for the label, rather than the 18% he currently receives. Domino counters that that is an incorrect reading of the old record contract.

With the dispute heading to court, in November last year Domino removed the three Four Tet albums it released from streaming services, claiming that it had been advised to do so by its lawyers. At a subsequent hearing in the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court in London it transpired that that was an attempt to kill the case.

The label had also offered to pay Hebden what he would have received had the higher streaming rate applied, despite still disputing that this rate was due. If it made that payment and no longer exploited his recordings, there would be no active dispute for the court to consider.

However, Hebden’s lawyers argued that by removing his albums from the streaming services Domino had actually created a new element to the dispute. At the IP Court hearing, they argued that as a result of the takedowns there was now another breach of contract claim against the label. They also accused Domino of what is known as ‘restraint of trade’.

At the lengthy hearing – recently summarised in a written judgement – the judge declined to allow Hebden to add a restraint of trade allegation to his lawsuit, but said the additional breach of contract claim could be included.

That all hinges on whether an obligation on Domino in Hebden’s record contract to release his music continues in perpetuity – like its royalty commitments – or if it only applied when the musician and label were actively working on new releases.

With the dispute still progressing, Music Week spotted yesterday that the three albums previously taken down are back on the streaming services. It’s not clear if that’s as a result of last year’s court hearing and the recent written judgement. The label also suffered quite a backlash – from Four Tet fans and the artist community – over the takedowns.

Either way, it’s good for UMPG that the albums are back online – an artist’s song rights can’t make as much money if the key recordings of those songs are not available.

It remains to be seen where the Hebden v Domino case goes next. Including physically. Domino’s lawyers reckon the case is getting too complex for the IP Enterprise Court and should be moved to the High Court proper. But Hebden’s team has stressed that he can’t afford to pursue the case in the main High Court, because his possible liabilities would increase significantly.

So if the case does move to the High Court, Hebden might be forced to abandon the litigation. Although if that happened, it would strengthen calls in the artist and management community as part of the wider economics of streaming debate that a better system is required for addressing artist/label disputes over royalty rates, if the conventional route of going to court is realistically out of the reach of most artists.