Spotify Settles Ministry of Sound's Lawsuit Over User Playlists

MoS, a dance label, was suing over the fact that the streaming website allows users to create playlists that mimic its compilation albums.
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Spotify CEO Daniel Ek

Spotify and Ministry of Sound have clicked delete on a legal dispute that had the potential of breaking ground.

Last September, MoS sued Spotify under the theory that the music streaming service had an obligation to ensure that users didn't make playlists that mimicked the selection and arrangement of MoS' compilation albums. The legal claims filed in the U.K. appeared to apply the intellectual property doctrine of "sweat of the brow," protecting the tireless effort in creating a work to playlists. When Spotify refused MoS' demand to delete user playlists, it was taken to court. MoS was seeking an injunction.

The parties have now agreed to a settlement.

Terms are confidential, but the Guardian reports that the offending playlists will be deleted from Spotify's search engine but not removed altogether. New users won't be allowed to follow these playlists, but they won't be stopped from creating new playlists for personal use that mirror MoS' compilations.

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The end of the dispute means no forthcoming legal determination on the protectability of selecting and arranging songs -- whether that be for compilation albums or for digital playlists.

In the U.S., Justice Sandra Day O'Connor poured cold water on the "sweat of the brow" doctrine in a 1991 ruling over the copyrightability of phone books. She wrote that "a compilation, like any other work, is copyrightable only if it satisfies the originality requirement."

Over in the U.K., an appeals court came to a similar conclusion in 2012 in a case against Yahoo for publishing football match schedules. Justices there also found that there's only protection in the "originality in the selection or arrangement of the data."

The dispute between Spotify and Ministry of Sound was partly about copyright, but it was also about competition. When the lawsuit was filed, MoS chief executive Lohan Presencer attempted to make the point that when it licensed rights from music labels to put out its compilations, MoS wasn't allowed streaming rights. In other words, Spotify users were being allowed to do something that MoS couldn't.

Twitter: @eriqgardner