17 September, 2013

Music Playlists and Copyright

Services like Spotify and Pandora have become huge in the last few years, allowing for users to listen to music on-the-go, sorting it according to the type of music they like and even allowing for the creation of custom playlists. Before the era of digital music becoming the predominant format, there were music compilation albums (which still exist believe it or not); an old analog format of a playlist if you will. Collections like Now That's What I Call Music! have been around for decades, selling millions upon millions of copies of albums with a collection of recent (or old) hits put into a convenient playlist on the album. As such there is very little correlation between the old compilation albums and modern digital music services and their playlists, but could playlists actually infringe copyright?

In a recent filing Ministry of Sound have alleged that Spotify have infringed their copyright in their creation of custom playlists which contained the same songs in the same order as what can be found in their compilation albums. These playlists are freely available on Spotify's service and even labeled as "Ministry of Sound". In Ministry of Sound's argument their playlists are protected under copyright as argued by CEO Lohan Presencer: "What we do is a lot more than putting playlists together: a lot of research goes into creating our compilation albums, and the intellectual property involved in that".

Not to be confused with the Ministry of Sound
What some of the readers of this blog, and intellectual property law enthusiasts in general, should notice is that this rationale goes against what has been long since argued in Feist (more of which can be found on this very blog here); effort does not necessarily equal copyright, and copyright does not protect ideas, merely their expression. Although Feist is an American case, this position has been adopted in a similar fashion by the European Court of Justice in Football Dataco and Others, thus applying in the UK.

So should a list of songs be protected under copyright? Arguably no, as the mere presentation of information in a list should not garner protection. Admittedly Ministry of Sounds probably do spend time in the arrangement and selection of the particular songs in any given compilation album, but this is only a collection of information. Each song individually will garner protection, but the listing of those arguably would not. Whether Ministry of Sound are successful is yet to be seen, but this writer in particular does not see their argument going very far.

Source: Digital Music News

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