Four Tet settles dispute against Domino Records to secure historic royalty rates

DJ and producer Four Tet has settled an historic dispute against independent label Domino Records, who have agreed to pay him a 50% royalty rate on streaming and downloads.

Four Tet

DJ and producer Four Tet has settled an historic dispute against independent label Domino Records, who have agreed to pay him a 50% royalty rate on streaming and downloads. The question now is what precedent this will set. 

For a long time, it’s seemed as though the battle over streaming rights has always favoured the big platform or label, to the detriment of the artist. Today, a case involving Four Tet, whose real name is Kieran Hebden, has swung the other way. And could have ramifications for the rest of the industry. 

Hebden has secured his demand for a 50% royalties rate on streaming and download, and has also been reimbursed for previous underpayment, in a case which has been publicly disclosed.  

The artist first signed to Domino in 2001, at a time before streaming services existed. His original contract stipulated he would receive an 18% royalty rate for physical sales – a figure which Domino stuck to throughout the introduction of streams and downloads.

In August 2021, Hebden sought damages against the label for three studio albums of his released between 2001 and 2010 – Pause (2001), Rounds (2003) and Everything Ecstatic (2005) – along with other recordings during that period.  

Today’s verdict means he’s also received a reported £56,000 ($70,000) in backpay, with Domino also paying his legal costs and interest on his lost earnings. 

In a statement on Twitter, an evidently pleased Hebden wrote: “I have a bodacious update on my case with Domino. They have recognised my original claim, that I should be paid a 50% royalty on streaming and downloads, and that they should be treated as a licence rather than the same as a CD or vinyl sale.  

“It has been a difficult and stressful experience to work my way through this court case and I’m so glad we got this positive result, but I feel hugely relieved that the process is over. Hopefully I’ve opened up a constructive dialogue and maybe prompted others to push for a fairer deal on historical contracts, written at a time when the music industry operated entirely differently.

Four Tet

Photo: Carolina Faruolo

“I really hope that my own course of action encourages anyone who might feel intimidated by challenging a record label with substantial means. Unlike Domino, I didn’t work with a big law firm and luckily the case took place in the IPEC court (where legal costs are capped) so I was able to stand my ground.  

“I hope these types of life of copyright deals become extinct – the music industry isn’t definitive and given its evolutionary nature it seems crazy to me to try and institutionalise music in that way. I feel so thankful for the people who worked with me on this, all of them understood my motivation, and I am truly grateful for all of the fans and artists who showed support for the intention here.” 

The challenge was ultimately settled out-of-court, so similar such disputes in the future will be unable to cite it as a legal judgment. But the very outcome of a large label acknowledging it should pay its artist more, will no doubt open grounds for further debate in the future and could still be used as a legal argument in the future.  

What’s more – as Hebden says himself – the decision may encourage more artists who feel they’re entitled to compensation due to discrepancies between their original contracts and the current streaming landscape.

Four Tet in 2011

Four Tet in 2011.

Aneesh Patel, Hebden’s legal representative, has said: “It has been a privilege to work with Kieran on this case and hugely rewarding to have achieved the outcome we set out for almost two and a half years ago. Throughout, Kieran has conducted himself with the utmost integrity, and in the interests of other artists and his fans who support him.”  

“I hope that Kieran’s actions and the successful outcome he has achieved will give other artists more confidence to make fair challenges. I hope that the awareness this case has brought will also help add momentum to the ambitions of the Broken Record campaign.” 

Patel is referring to a long-running campaign which began at the beginning of lockdown in 2020, with the aim of highlighting market failures within the music streaming business. 

A bill from the MP Kevin Brennan had originally failed to make progress in parliament toward the end of last year. However, in January, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an official probe into the UK music streaming market. 

The study will examine the music streaming market, with a particular attention to the roles played by record labels and music streaming services. You wonder whether cases such as Four Tet’s will simply be the first of many. 

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