Spotify is fast become the de facto way of listening to music online for millions of in the know users. Rather than buy a copy of a track which is downloaded to a player such as an iPod, Spotify users either pay a monthly fee (for a no advert service) or stream their tracks free of charge in exchange for the odd advert here and there. They don't actually own the track, nor do they download it for offline storage; it's like a digital radio where you are the DJ and control the playlists. Indeed, Spotify has been hailed by many as the answer to music piracy, a method of listening to all the music you could want but without having to pay the kind of money that iTunes demands for a track, which averages out at around 79p here in the UK for example. No piracy worries for the record companies, many of whom have a stake in the Spotify business it should be noted, and no need to take the illegal downloads route for end users. It has over 7 million users, including 300,000 who pay for the commercial ad-free service. So what could possibly go wrong?
Well, according to The British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA), the organisation which is responsible for the Ivor Novello songwriting awards, rather a lot. Or should that be rather a little? BASCA reckons that as far as songwriters are concerned "the amounts of money that are actually being received are tiny". Indeed, one of the most played songs on Spotify last year was Poker Face by Lady Gaga which was streamed more than a million times. That, you might imagine, would have earned the songwriter a nice little something yet reports claim it accounted for a measly £108 in royalties.
Senior Spotify vice-president Paul Brown told The Independent newspaper that "artists should be compensated fairly for their work and amazing creativity and we hope that the revenues we are generating and sharing are finding their way to them, as they should". Brown disputes the Lady Gaga figures, in The Telegraph, saying that the statistic "is over 15 months out of date and relates to a short period of time" and is "not an accurate or current reflection of the total royalties paid out to an artist and composer like Lady Gaga". Brown explains the quoted figures only account for Swedish royalties to the Swedish co-composer of the track.
However, BASCA chairman Patrick Rackow told the BBC that "there is no clear trail that can be established so that the songwriter can trace back what they ought to have got. These things are behind a blanket of secrecy, and that is extremely worrying".