Four Tet, real name Kieran Hebden, is suing his old label Domino Recordings for a higher royalty rate on recordings he released with the company in the 2000’s. He signed his contract in February 2001, before streaming was even launched yet at the end of the decade. Spotify was launched in 2008.
According to Music Week, Four Tet and his lawyers are challenging the 18% royalty rate that he is currently receiving under the deal he signed in 2001. They would like a 50% rate. Four Tet is also seeking £70,000 in damages plus costs. Domino is defending its decision to apply the 18%, which were for sales and downloads, to streams.
Hebden and his lawyers are arguing that the 50% is a “reasonable” rate, though there has been some back and forth already interpreting various clauses in his 2001 contract.
Hedben’s legal team points to a clause that discuses exploitation of masters with regard to streaming outside of the UK.
“In respect of the exploitation of the Masters and any videos embodying the Masters and received by us from our licensees outside the UK we shall credit your audio and audio-visual royalty accounts respectively with 50% of all royalties and fees arising from such exploitation.”
Domino points to a different clause that discusses future tech and actually has a rate of 75% of the normal 18%.
“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.”
“Streaming was not, as at the date of the 2001 Agreement, a mainstream method for the lawful distribution of recorded music and was not as at that date within the contemplation of the parties,” added Domino in its defense.
Under his deal, Four Tet released three albums, Pause (2001), Rounds (2003) and Everything Ecstatic (2005), as well as one live album and two EPs/mini-albums and eight singles.
There hasn’t been a final ruling by a judge, but it could have ramifications for artist royalty rates with their contracts pre-streaming.