Four Tet and Domino in legal dispute over streaming royalties

Four Tet, Squidsoup

Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet, is taking legal action against Domino.

The producer is in a legal dispute with Domino, and is claiming up to £70,000 in damages, and costs, for the royalty rate applied to streams and downloads of music released in the noughties.

According to legal papers obtained by Music Week, Hebden is trying to claim a 50 percent royalty rate, while Domino is choosing to stand by its decision of retaining a rate of 18 percent for historical streaming and download royalties. Hebden is also claiming that Domino has breached its contract. A defence document states that the label has rejected his claims.

The historical contract in question was signed in February 2001, before Spotify was launched in 2008. The label is highlighting one particular clause in the contract: “In respect of records sold in new technology formats other than vinyl, Compact Discs and analogue tape cassettes the royalty rate shall be 75% of the otherwise applicable rate.” Domino is arguing that the streams and downloads fall under “new technology formats” and that Hebden should be receiving 75 percent of the 18 percent royalty rate.

Furthermore, Hebden is arguing that “the costs to labels of releasing music by way of streaming services or online music stores are substantially lower than the costs associated with releasing music in traditional physical formats”. As such, “the royalty rate payable by labels to musical artists on streaming or download revenue is typically significantly higher than the rate payable on physical formats”.

Domino has responded with: “Under the 2001 Agreement, the costs of product manufacture and distribution were reflected in part by the application to physical formats of packaging deductions which (as the Claimant acknowledges…) were not applicable to digital formats.”

Music Week has highlighted that Domino’s defence also includes emails exchanged between Hebden and the label in 2020. Last year, Hebden contacted the label and requested to buy back his masters. Domino declined the request. The label has stated in its defence that the legal dispute is part of a strategy for Hebden to buy the masters. The defence states: “It is denied… that the Claimant has any claim for damages or that the Defendant has under-accounted or is under-accounting to him.”

The case will be heard at the Business and Property Courts of the High Court of Justice. Since 2001, Hebden has released five LPs through Domino – including 2001’s Pause and 2009’s There is Love in You – as well as one live album and eight singles.

(via Music Week)