Spotify Sued by Camper Van Beethoven Singer for $150 Million

The class-action suit accuses the streaming music service of shortchanging artists on royalty payments

Spotify founder and CEO Daniel Elk speaks at a Spotify event
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Spotify has been hit with a $150 million class-action lawsuit filed by the lead singer of 1980s alternative band Camper Van Beethoven, alleging that the top subscription music service has failed to pay royalties to artists.

The suit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, is the latest clash between artists and streaming services. It comes as the recorded music business shifts from paid downloads to online services that let consumers pay a flat monthly subscription or sit through ads to access a buffet of tunes.

Worried that the subscription model devalues music, stars like Adele and Taylor Swift have held back albums from some some services that allow listeners to hear songs on demand, like Spotify with its more than 75 million active users.

David Lowery — the frontman for Camper Van Beethoven and his subsequent band, Cracker — claimed that Spotify has failed to pay royalties to artists “in an amount that is not as yet fully ascertained” but that Lowery believes to be at least $150 million, according to court documents made available Tuesday.

The class-action suit identifies members of the class to be anyone who owns reproduction and distribution rights of copyrighted songs that have been played by Spotify.

Lowery has long been an advocate for artists’ interests as the music business shifts its business models. In a 2013 blog post, he recounted how online radio service Pandora paid him just $16.89 in songwriter royalties for more than 1 million spins of Cracker’s hit song “Low.”

Spotify’s head of communications, Jonathan Prince, said in a statement that the company is “committed to paying songwriters and publishers every penny.”

Particularly in the U.S., information about the correct copyright holder is often missing, wrong or incomplete, he said. In such cases, Spotify sets aside royalties until it can confirm the right recipient. He added that the company is working with the National Music Publishers Association, a trade group for people who handle songwriter royalties, to figure out how to accurately allot those licensing fees and is investing in a comprehensive publishing administration system.