Artist sues Spotify for millions over royalties

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Spotify was hit Monday with a lawsuit claiming at least $150 million in damages for unpaid royalties.

The lawsuit, which asks to be treated as a class action, was filed by David Lowery, who performs with the bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker and has long been a critic of music streaming services.

His lawsuit claims that Spotify has distributed music “without mechanical licenses in an egregious, continuous and ongoing campaign of deliberate copyright infringement.” Calling the alleged infringement “knowing and willful,” the lawsuit argues that the company streams music without tracking down the people who hold the copyright on the recording.

Lowery’s lawsuit also claims that Spotify maintains a fund “wherein the royalty payments Spotify wrongfully withholds from artists are held.” Billboard reported on Tuesday that such a fund exists and is worth between $17 million and $25 million.

"We are committed to paying songwriters and publishers every penny,” said Spotify’s Jonathan Prince in a statement. “Unfortunately, especially in the United States, the data necessary to confirm the appropriate rightsholders is often missing, wrong, or incomplete. When rightsholders are not immediately clear, we set aside the royalties we owe until we are able to confirm their identities.”

Lowery says in the lawsuit that Spotify has illegally distributed his songs “Almond Grove,” “Get On Down the Road,” “King of Bakersfield,” and “Tonight I Cross the Border” but says that the company has infringed upon other copyrights as well.

The lawsuit claims class-action status, meaning Lowery would represent other people in a similar situation and the court would make a decision that would apply to all of them. The lawsuit hopes to encompass “owners of mechanical distribution and reproduction rights in musical compositions registered under United States federal law, which compositions were reproduced or distributed by Spotify without license or authorization since December 28, 2012.”

The lawsuit was first reported by Billboard.

The topic of unpaid royalties is a fraught one for Spotify. The streaming service is currently negotiating a settlement with the National Music Publishers Association over its difficulties paying the different licensing fees for individual recordings. The service says it is working to improve the process by which it locates and pays rights holders.