The Ministry of Sound vs. Spotify. One of the oddest court cases in copyright history.

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I used to live at the Elephant & Castle in south London. Surprisingly, given its rather 'gritty' character, this made people somewhat envious. Not because of the bright pink shopping centre, but because my flat was just a street away from the Ministry of Sound, the nightclub and centre of the universe for hipsters and ravers.

I never went. I don't really like raves. Or clubs. Or young people. And, as it turns out, my scepticism was well-founded. Because now, the 'Ministry' has abandoned its underground credentials in favour of some hot legal action. And worse, they're suing Spotify.  

The details of the lawsuit are quite odd. Actually, they're very odd. You see, Ministry of Sound claim the playlists created by Spotify users, are a bit similar to those compilation albums they're always punting on the TV. That's right, the nightclub-cum-record-label really imagines the act of putting songs together in a particular order constitutes an endeavour so creative, it's worthy of intellectual property protection. Almost as though they're 'on one'.

To be clear, those Ministry of Sound compilations we see on the telly are not on Spotify, so that's not the complaint. What has driven Ministry's Chief Executive, Lohan Presencer (wow!), to the embrace of the lawyers, is the tendency for music fans - or at least Spotify users - to put tracks together in the same order as those compilations. 

Ministry of Sound says '... a lot of research goes into' creating their compilations. Which they would. But it's hard to see how obtaining the necessary licences to use two dozen very popular songs, then putting them together on a CD requires 'a lot of research'. Writing an extensive history of the Roman Empire's conquest of northern Europe - that would involve 'a lot of research'. But making a compilation album? I'm not so sure.

Mr. Presencer goes on to say, "What we do is a lot more than putting playlists together ... (so) it's not appropriate for someone to just cut and paste them."

But nobody is 'cutting and pasting' his collections are they? They're just putting somebody else's tunes together in the same order as one of his albums. Right?

Regardless, the Ministry of Sound launched legal proceedings in the High Court in London on Monday, asserting that the law protects "the expertise and creative effort involved" in 'curating' albums such as 'The Sound Of Dubstep Classics'. They are asking the court to instruct Spotify to remove the playlists which put songs in the same order as the 'Ministry' and block future playlists of a similar nature. It is also after some money by way of damages.

I'm no legal expert, but surely this cannot possibly succeed. Like many thousands of people, I use Spotify. Sometimes I put playlists together. They rarely contain dubstep - in fact, they never contain dubstep - but they may use the same songs, in the same order, as a compilation album once put together by a record label. And that's a breach of copyright? Really?

I can't help wondering whether Presencer, or any of his advisers, has bothered to look at the hundreds of sites which make the actual Ministry of Sound albums available for free. The tracks, the artwork, everything. Now that's taking intellectual property, tearing it up into little squares, mashing it up into a soggy ball and running over it in a medium-sized family car. If he has,  he doesn't seem so bothered about them.

In all seriousness, the notion that a list of pop songs in particular order constitutes some sort of independent creation, deserving of the might of m'learned friends, is preposterous. And if the Ministry of Sound believes chasing after Spotify users, in exactly the same way Metallica chased after fourteen year old kids on Napster, is going to boost their hipness and street brand chops, they're sadly mistaken.

As hundreds of bands, artists, songwriters, managers and record labels have discovered, when pop music goes to court it's always ugly, undignified and embarrassing. I guarantee the case of Ministry of Sound vs. Spotify will not be an exception.

Magnus Shaw is a writer, blogger and broadcaster



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