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Spotify seeks to have Eminem mechanicals case dismissed on jurisdiction grounds

By | Published on Monday 30 September 2019


Spotify has responded to the lawsuit filed against it by Eminem’s publishing company Eight Mile Style, seeking to have the case dismissed on jurisdiction grounds. It also promises to show “at the appropriate time” why the case is “meritless”.

The lawsuit, filed by the Eminem company last month, accuses Spotify of copyright infringement for failing to properly license the mechanical rights in the rapper’s musical works. Most of the claims in the lawsuit mirror earlier litigation by other songwriters and music publishers that correctly claim that – although there is a compulsory licence covering the mechanical rights in songs in the US – that licence only applies if the appropriate paperwork is filed with the copyright owner or the US Copyright Office.

It was the flurry of earlier lawsuits on this very issue that led to last year’s Music Modernization Act. The streaming services and some within the music community argued that, while plenty of songs streamed by digital platforms in the US hadn’t been properly licensed, that was in no small part because of the lack of a decent music rights database that links recordings to songs. In most other countries a collecting society takes responsibility for that matching work, reducing the obligations of the streaming companies.

The MMA sets up such a collecting society in the US, and work is now underway to get it established. The streaming companies pledged to pay for the set up and running of that society on the condition that a line would be drawn in the sand and no more lawsuits could be filed by copyright owners claiming so called ‘statutory damages’ for missing paperwork and unpaid mechanical royalties.

The Eight Mile Style litigation, which is claiming good old statutory damages for those precise failings, acknowledges this fact, but claims that Spotify has not met all the obligations set out in the MMA in order to avoid new litigation over past unpaid mechanicals. On top of that, it also claims that the elements of the MMA that prevent new litigation of this kind are unconstitutional. And in its legal filing last week, Spotify noted all this.

Eight Mile Style, it stated, acknowledges “that Congress recently enacted the Music Modernization Act – which on its face precludes them from pursuing claims for statutory and other damages (apart from unpaid royalties). They claim that the act’s limitation on liability is unconstitutional and must be struck down. Plaintiffs also claim that the act’s limitation on liability is inapplicable because Spotify allegedly did not comply with certain requirements under the statute. Spotify denies these allegations and will show at the appropriate time why plaintiffs’ claims are meritless”.

However, proving, supposedly, that Eight Mile Style’s claims about the MMA are “meritless” is for another day. Most of last week’s legal submission took issue with the Eminem publisher filing its litigation with a court in Nashville, Tennessee, when the music firm itself is based in Michigan, while Spotify’s US HQ is in New York. To that end it plans to request the case be dismissed outright, or at least be moved to a court in New York State.

In the shorter term, and with all this in mind, Spotify wants the Nashville court to postpone a planned case management conference, due to take place on 21 Oct. On the basis that such a hearing would be a waste of time if the streaming firm is successful in having the case either thrown out of court or moved into the New York jurisdiction.

For their part, legal reps for Eight Mile Style confirmed that they will oppose that postponement, and to that end on Friday they requested that the court make no decisions on anything just yet. They will file their arguments as to why the 21 Oct hearing should go ahead as planned by next Monday.

So, expect plenty more back and forth on this one in the weeks ahead.