Spotify is not starting off the new year on a high note. The music streaming giant has been hit with a massive lawsuit by Wixen Music Publishing, the company that administers some of the biggest songs by Tom Petty, Steve Nicks, Weezer, Neil Young, and even late Partridge Family heartthrob David Cassidy. Wixen also holds the copyright to music by country singer Kenny Rogers, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, and many more big-name artists.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the lawsuit filed in California federal court alleges that Spotify is using tens of thousands of songs without a license or compensation for the artists, including Petty’s 1989 solo hit “Free Fallin'” and the Doors’ 1967 classic “Light My Fire.” The plaintiff, who has suggested that more than 20 percent of the 30 million songs on Spotify are unlicensed, seeks a whopping $1.6 billion in damages. The new suit comes on the heels of Spotify’s $43 million class-action lawsuit filed by songwriters and publishers over mechanical licenses last year, which has yet to be settled.
The complaint states that prior to launch, Spotify struck deals with major record labels to obtain the rights to the sound recording copyrights in the songs by offering them equity stakes in the company. But the streaming site reportedly failed to obtain the equivalent rights for the compositions, which leaves songwriters and publishers uncompensated in the deal.
In 2015, Neil Young took almost all of his music off of streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, but it was over the sites’ default audio quality, not copyright issues.
“I don’t need my music to be devalued by the worst quality in the history of broadcasting or any other form of distribution,” Young said at the time, according to Variety. “I don’t feel right allowing this to be sold to my fans. It’s bad for my music.”
Neil Young isn’t the only artist who has been vocal about his unhappiness with music streaming sites. In 2014, Taylor Swift pulled all of her music from Spotify, explaining the move in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal.
“Music is art, and art is important and rare,” Swift wrote.
“Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It’s my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album’s price point is. I hope they don’t underestimate themselves or undervalue their art.”
Swift has since allowed her music to be available on the site but on her own terms. As an example, fans had to wait 20 days after the release of Swift’s 2017 Reputation album to stream it on Spotify. In addition, the Beatles’ music was long absent from Spotify (the Fab Four finally debuted on the site in 2015) and it took Petty’s superstar band The Traveling Wilburys until 2016 to finally put their music on streaming services.