In bringing the lawsuit, Four Tet sought damages of up to £ 70,000 (approx. $ 95,000) plus costs. Hebden is also seeking a court ruling on the 50 percent royalty rate. If a judge determines that the contract does not cover streams and other digital formats, then Four Tet should have received a “reasonable market rate” for them, according to the musician’s legal arguments.
As UK music outlet Complete Music Update noted, the dispute is part of a long-standing debate over whether digital formats represent a ‘sale’ or ‘license’ under the contracts. of the analog era. Legal action has been taken on this issue since the iTunes era. In 2009, former Eminem producers, FBT Productions, lost such a royalty deal to label giant Universal Music Group. Almost a decade later, Enrique Iglesias launched a similar lawsuit against Universal, except for streaming royalties; According to court documents online, the two sides quickly reached a confidential settlement.
The Four Tet case was only visible in the middle of last year, after Domino’s defense case in February 2021 became public. Domino argued that Four Tet was not entitled to a 50% rate for streaming royalties. The label reportedly reported another contractual provision which fixes a rate for “new technological formats” which is 75% of the “otherwise applicable rate”. Domino argued that although he paid Hebden an 18% rate for his digital catalog “on a discretionary basis”, he was only obligated to pay a portion of it. The label also reportedly claimed that the streaming and download rate would be the same, claiming that “a stream is technically always a download of packets of data.” In addition, Domino argued that streaming was not a method of mainstream distribution at the time of the 2001 contract and was not contemplated by either him or Hebden at that time.
The case came to a head last fall when Domino cleaned up Pause, Sleeves, and Everything is ecstatic– apparently all three studio albums covered by Four Tet’s indie deal – from services such as Spotify and Apple Music. (The 2010 Four Tet album There is love in you, although originally posted to Domino, was apparently not part of the same contract.) Hebden tweeted that Domino’s attorneys had “said they would remove [his] music from all digital services to stop the business from progressing. Dan Snaith of Caribou, another former electronic artist signed Domino, expressed his support for Hebden, Tweeter that the removal of the albums was “a desperate and vindictive act”. Snaith wrote that Four Tet was “motivated by setting a fair precedent for other artists in similar situations, rather than by his own self-interest.”
A few British music trade groups also lobbied in favor of Hebden. The CEOs of the Music Managers Forum, an association of professional music managers, and the Featured Artists Coalition, which advocates for the rights of musical artists, issued a joint statement that called the withdrawal “misguided and doomed to failure. “.
Following the outcry, Domino said in a statement he was “equally saddened” by the situation. “The decision to temporarily remove Four Tet’s three albums from digital services was not taken lightly,” the statement said. “We were advised to do so as a necessary consequence of [Hebden’s] dispute right now. Since the start of legal proceedings in December 2020, according to the press release, Domino had offered mediation but the Four Tet camp had “rejected” them. “We have continued to try to reconnect with them to find a solution to this dispute: a solution that is fair to both parties, but to no avail,” Domino said. “Through it all, we have been and remain open to discussion and mediation. While we are equally discouraged at having to take these steps, we remain hopeful that an amicable solution can be found in the future. Our door is now and will always be open for further discussions with [Hebden]. “