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Four Tet launches legal action against Domino Recordings over streaming royalties

The artist is claiming he has the right to a royalty rate of 50%

Kieran Hebden, aka Four Tet, has launched legal proceedings against record label Domino over a dispute about royalties.

According to a report by Music Week, Hebden is claiming up to £70,000 in damages and costs for the royalty rate that was applied to streams and downloads of his music released via the label in the '00s. It's believed the case could set a precedent for streaming royalty rate disputes, particularly for contracts signed in the pre-digital era, with Hebden seemingly the first artist to take a claim of this kind as far as the High Court.

According to legal papers obtained by Music Week, Hebden is trying to claim a 50% royalty rate, while Domino is remaining resolute in its decision to apply a rate of 18% to streams and downloads based on the contract relating to sales of records. Hebden is also claiming that Domino has breached its contract. A defence document issued by Domino's representatives states that the label has rejected his claims.

Hebden and his lawyers have been locked in a legal dialogue with Domino for some time over his claims that the label was in breach of contract. With both sides unable to reach an agreement, the case is soon set to be tried by a judge at the Business and Property Courts of the High Court of Justice. 

The disputed contract was signed in February 2001, before Spotify was launched in 2008, as well as the founding of various other streaming platforms. The label is highlighting one particular clause in the contract: "In respect of records sold in new technology formats other than vinyl, Compact Discs and analogue tape cassettes the royalty rate shall be 75% of the otherwise applicable rate."

Domino is arguing that the streams and downloads fall under "new technology formats", and that Hebden should therefore be receiving 75% of the 18% royalty rate.

Hebden's representatives, however, are arguing that "the costs to labels of releasing music by way of streaming services or online music stores are substantially lower than the costs associated with releasing music in traditional physical formats". They claim, therefore, that "the royalty rate payable by labels to musical artists on streaming or download revenue is typically significantly higher than the rate payable on physical formats".

Music Week's report on the case highlights that Domino's defence also includes emails exchanged between Hebden and the label in 2020. Hebden contacted the label with a request to buy back his masters, which Domino declined. The label has stated in its defence that the legal dispute is part of a strategy for Hebden to buy the masters. 

Hebden released five studio albums as Four Tet with Domino, starting in 2001 with 'Pause' and culminating in 2009 with 'There Is Love In You'. The label also released a live album and a number of 12" singles by the producer during the time that he was signed to the label.

Hebden's dispute with Domino over streaming royalties follows a UK Government report which last month concluded that the current streaming model needed a "total reset".

Earlier this year, Four Tet contributed to Madlib's album, 'Sound Ancestors', while he collaborated with Burial and Thom Yorke on a two-track record, released via XL, late last year.