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Spotify is being sued for $150 million over unpaid royalties

Spotify is being sued for $150 million over unpaid royalties

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Musician David Lowery has filed a class action lawsuit against Spotify, claiming the streaming service knowingly distributes copyrighted content without license, Billboard reports. Lowery is seeking at least $150 million in damages for the illegal distribution of several of his songs.

Lowery's complaint alleges Spotify causes "substantial harm and injury to the copyright holders" by intentionally failing to obtain the proper licenses for the reproduction and distribution of copyrighted compositions, Billboard reports. In the complaint, Lowery says Spotify has illegally duplicated or hosted several songs by his band Cracker, including "King of Bakersfield," "Almond Grove," and "Tonight I Cross the Border," according to Billboard. Lowery will represent a proposed group of over 100 members who share his frustrations with the service.

David Lowery's mad again

Spotify seems to understand that some of the content it hosts will infringe on copyright. Lowery's complaint claims that Spotify keeps a "$17 to $25 million reserve" for the sole purpose of paying royalties that were never distributed to artists.

"We are committed to paying songwriters and publishers every penny," Jonathan Prince, Spotify's global head of communications said in a statement to The Verge. "Unfortunately, especially in the United States, the data necessary to confirm the appropriate rightsholders is often missing, wrong, or incomplete. When rightsholders are not immediately clear, we set aside the royalties we owe until we are able to confirm their identities."

In recent years, Lowery has emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of the current state of the music industry. You may remember him as the man who wrote an open letter to an NPR intern regarding an article she wrote about not paying for music. In the letter, he sarcastically congratulates her for "unsticking it to the man." Lowery is still trying to un-unstick it.

This is not the first time Spotify has faced a lawsuit over copyright infringement. In 2013, Ministry of Sound, which creates dance music compilations, sued Spotify for refusing to delete user-created playlists that mimicked its albums. They later settled out of court. This fall, the small Chicago label Victory Records claimed Spotify was underpaying its artists in deserved royalties.

Spotify is currently in the middle of a settlement with the National Music Publishers Association, after the NMPA sued the company claiming it failed to accurately keep track of royalty payments. Just last week Spotify admitted in a blog post that it had a problem managing royalties, and that it would work with the NMPA to build a "comprehensive publishing administration system" to ensure artists and publishers are properly compensated. If the NMPA opts into the settlement, which gives publishers the power to request royalty payments in exchange for reliquishing legal claims over licensing fees, it will likely weaken Lowery's case.

Update, 2:39PM ET: Updated to add Spotify's comment.