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MMF and FAC criticise Domino over Four Tet dispute, call for an end to life of copyright record deals

By | Published on Tuesday 23 November 2021

Four Tet

The UK’s Music Managers Forum and Featured Artists Coalition have called on Domino Records to reconsider its decision to remove three Four Tet albums from streaming services as part of an ongoing legal dispute between the label and the musician, dubbing that move “misguided and self-defeating”.

MMF CEO Annabella Coldrick and FAC CEO David Martin say in a joint statement: “The removal of Four Tet’s first three albums ‘Pause’, ‘Rounds’ and ‘Everything Ecstatic’ from streaming services by Domino raises all kinds of moral and legal questions about rights assignment and the power of labels over an artist’s work. Regardless of the legal dispute between the two parties this is a misguided and self-defeating move, and we urge them to reconsider”.

“The FAC and MMF continue to press the government to instigate changes to the law to end ‘life of copyright’ deals and return rights ownership to artists and songwriters after a set period of time”, they add, focusing on the bigger picture. “Alongside other industry-led reforms, this would be an effective way to ensure legacy contracts are made fit for purpose in the streaming era, and that the fair treatment of artists, songwriters and musicians can be guaranteed in the future”.

It emerged in August that Four Tet – real name Kieran Hebden – had sued Domino in a dispute over digital royalties. Hebden argues that, under the terms of his 2001 record contract, Domino should be paying him a 50% royalty on all or most of the streaming income that stems from the albums he released with the label. But Domino says that’s an incorrect interpretation of the contract, and that the 18% royalty it is paying Hebden is compliant with the terms of the 20 year old record deal.

This weekend, Hebden told fans on Twitter that – with the legal battle still going through the motions – Domino had now removed three of his albums from streaming services. He wrote: “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 went 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”.

The Four Tet v Domino dispute comes amid heightened debate in the UK around the economics of streaming and the nature of record deals. A key part of that debate is how labels interpret old record deals when music consumption trends change, given that most labels traditionally own the rights in recordings they release for life of copyright – which is currently 70 years in Europe – meaning many artists are reliant on old labels and old deals to pay them their fair share of future income.

During the UK Parliament’s inquiry into the economics of streaming, it was proposed that copyright law be reformed in a way that would allow artists to force labels to renegotiate old deals to take into account changing trends and new industry standards – or even to allow artists to take ownership of the rights in their recordings after a period of time.

Both of those copyright reforms were proposed by the MMF and FAC in their joint submission to the inquiry – and were again summarised in a white paper they published in September.

The government is currently commissioning research into the potential impact of those proposed reforms – and also the proposal that so called performer equitable remuneration be applied to streams, so that artists would receive at least some of their digital royalties through the collective licensing system at industry standard rates, rather than subject to the terms of a record contract.

Meanwhile, Labour MP Kevin Brennan is proposing various copyright law reforms in that domain via a private members bill that will be discussed in Parliament next month.