Four Tet is taking legal action against Domino Recordings over streaming royalty rates

“A reasonable royalty rate... has at all material times been at least 50 per cent.”

Electronic music pioneer Four Tet, real name Kieran Hebden, is taking legal action against Domino Recordings for streaming royalty rates on his album releases in the 00s. Hebden is reportedly the first artist to take a claim regarding streaming royalties to the UK High Court. Domino Recordings rejects the claim.

Legal papers obtained by Music Week state that Hebden is seeking damages of up to £70,000 plus costs and a streaming royalty rate of 50 per cent. Domino is defending its streaming rate of 18 per cent per the original contract relating to record sales. Hebden and his lawyers have been in a legal dialogue over these claims but have not reached an agreement. A judge will hear the case at the Business and Property Courts of the High Court of Justice.

Hebden claims that Domino Recordings has breached the contract, signed in 2001, seven years before Spotify was launched. The contract states that record sales are subject to a royalty rate of 18 per cent, but Hebden’s lawyers are seeking a higher rate of 50 per cent for downloads and streaming revenue or a “reasonable” rate if a judge rules that the contract is not applicable to streaming.

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The claim states: “Four Tet will contend that a reasonable royalty rate in respect of revenues derived from exploitation by way of streaming and/or digital download under the implied term of the 2001 Agreement has at all material times been at least 50 per cent.”

Domino is highlighting a clause in the contract that states: “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 argues that digital downloads are considered a new technology format and that Hebden was entitled to 75 per cent of the 18 per cent dealer price on sales of vinyl, CD and tape.

The defence also pointed to an email exchange in 2020 between Hebden, label owner Laurence Bell and director Harry Martin. In the exchange, Hebden was requesting to buy back his masters but Domino declined. The defence states: “It is a legitimate inference that the Claimant’s challenge to the Defendant’s application of the 18 per cent royalty rate to streams and downloads forms part of a strategy on his part to exert pressure on the Defendant to sell him the Masters”.

Hebden’s claim covers three albums on Domino, a live album, two EPs and eight singles. The albums include Pause (2001, Rounds (2003) and Everything Ecstatic (2005). His 2010 album, There Is Love In You, was not released under the same contract.

Four Tet’s case follows a report by the UK parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) department stating that “streaming needs a complete reset”, suggesting labels should be paying more royalties to their artists.

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