The suits just keep on coming.
Last night, singer-songwriter David Lowery and the law firm Michelman & Robinson, along with co-plaintiffs and fellow songwriters Victor Krummenacher and David Faragher, filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against streaming service Rhapsody in the U.S. District Court of Northern California. (Both Krummenacher and Faragher have worked with Lowery previously; Krummenacher was a founding member of Camper Van Beethoven, while Faragher was in Cracker.) The new suit alleges willful copyright infringement, which carries statutory damages that can reach a maximum of $150,000 per work.
In late December, Lowery filed a proposed class-action copyright infringement lawsuit against Spotify over the issue of unpaid mechanical royalties — the first of a handful of similar proposed class-action cases.
“To quote John Goodman in The Big Lebowski, ‘Am I the only one who gives a shit about the rules?’.” Lowery says, referring to the subject of mechanical royalties. “This is a massive, widespread problem. If I wanted to make a lot of money, I would have done it as a personal lawsuit. I want to get this cleaned up.”
These cases, as well as proposed class-action lawsuits filed against Tidal, Slacker, and Google, for the alleged behavior of Google Play, by the law firm Garbarini FitzGerald on behalf of Yesh Music and John K. Emanuele, all involve mechanical royalties, which the distributor of a recording must pay to music publishers. (Emanuele is a musician in the band American Dollar, which does business under the name Yesh Music.)
In the U.S., the royalties that streaming services must pay for the use of compositions involve both public performance rights and mechanical rights. Mechanical licenses for a song can be obtained under a statutory license by filing a Notice of Intent with the publisher — which most streaming services seem not to have done. Spotify pays most publishers and songwriters, and the company has said that it sets aside money for songwriters and publishers it can’t identify or find — which would not make it compliant with copyright law, even if it demonstrates good faith.
Rhapsody has been sued over the issue of mechanical royalties before — by Yesh Music in 2014 — although that was not a class action. That case was settled, according to Richard Garbarini of Garbarini FitzGerald.