Spotify and Ministry of Sound spat poses question: can you copyright a playlist?

Spotify and Ministry of Sound in playlist spat
Compilations get complicated

Spotify is being sued by British label Ministry of Sound over the use of playlists on the service, because they ape the dance label's own compilation albums.

In a curious case that hit the UK High Court this week, Ministry of Sound is looking for an injunction that would mean the removal of these playlists and put a block on future lists that stray too close to any of its compilations, according to the Guardian.

If the injunction is granted then this could well set a precedent for how music services like Spotify operate in the future.

Tracks of your tears

Ministry of Sound has a long history of taking people to court over the apparent misuse of its music.

Back in 2011, it sent out letters to file sharers and was then hit with a barrage of criticism over what was seen as a heavy handed approach.

That was for illegal file-sharing, though - its current dealings with Spotify is a very different beast, where it believes a legitimate feature on a legitimate service is harming its business.

Speaking to TechRadar about the situation, Tim Ingham, editor of Music Week, explained that it would be difficult for Ministry of Sound to convince the courts that its curation of songs is worth copyrighting, as well as the songs.

"This is a landmark case," he noted. "It will be tough for Ministry of Sound to get a result relating to track ordering - each of these tracks have been legally licensed to Spotify and the mere order they are played in is tough to protect as an intellectual property.

"The company probably has a stronger chance trying to prevent consumers copying their brand name when putting a title on Spotify playlists."

Discovering discovery

Spotify has been pushing the curation aspect of the service of late, with its revamped Discovery feature actively pushing users to playlists by singers and songwriters.

It is this side of Spotify that reflects the way the music industry is going, said Ingham.

"It is interesting to note that compilations - albums which essentially merely curate or re-order existing tracks and Ministry's core record business - is a growth area for the music industry, with sales up year-on-year as consumers turn to experts to give them the wheat and slice out the chaff amongst the mass of released tracks each week.

"This is a conundrum for the business: both Spotify and compilations offer good news stories in a market that still has a paucity of positive trends.

"We're about to find out what happens when one starts eating into the success of the other."

Marc Chacksfield

Marc Chacksfield is the Editor In Chief, at DC Thomson. He started out life as a movie writer for numerous (now defunct) magazines and soon found himself online - editing a gaggle of gadget sites, including TechRadar, Digital Camera World and Tom's Guide UK. At Shortlist you'll find him mostly writing about movies and tech, so no change there then.