David Lowery is upset again. The former frontman for '90s alt-rock band Cracker is once again taking aim at the new digital music economy. This time, his target is Spotify and the way it handles royalty payments for artists.
Lowery is heading up a $150 million class-action lawsuit against Spotify for allegedly streaming copyrighted content and knowingly withholding mechanical royalty payments from some artists, according to Billboard.
Spotify is in the process of negotiating an agreement with the National Music Publishers Association over how it handles royalties for works whose copyright owner is not immediately known. The company has reportedly set aside as much as $25 million for the purposes of paying out royalties to the owners of these songs. In effect, Lowery's lawsuit is saying that this practice constitutes copyright infringement. And he wants the company to pay up.
If anybody was going to file this lawsuit, it was David Lowery. The musician, who also fronts Camper Van Beethoven, has become something of an agitator in the digital music world over the last few years, routinely raising his voice in favor of artists' rights as listening consumption habits—and the economics around them—evolve.
In 2012, Lowery wrote a thoroughly critical open letter to NPR's Emily White after she wrote an op-ed explaining that to her, like many in her generation, "owning" (and routinely paying for) music was a foreign concept. Lowery has also been a vocal critic of Pandora and its efforts to decrease its own royalty costs over the years. If there's a way that artists are at risk of being shafted while the music industry contracts and contorts into a new model driven by on-demand subscriptions, Lowery will be the first to point it out.
In its defense, Spotify released a statement shedding some light on its handling of royalty payments, via Billboard:
"Unfortunately, especially in the United States, the data necessary to confirm the appropriate rightsholders is often missing, wrong, or incomplete. When rightsholders are not immediately clear, we set aside the royalties we owe until we are able to confirm their identities. We are working closely with the National Music Publishers Association to find the best way to correctly pay the royalties we have set aside and we are investing in the resources and technical expertise to build a comprehensive publishing administration system to solve this problem for good."