Four Tet’s Streaming Royalties Dispute With Domino: What’s Going On and Why It Matters

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A breakdown of the electronic producer’s UK indie label drama and how it transcends borders

Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet
Kieran Hebden aka Four Tet, February 2011 (Louise Wilson/WireImage)

In a series of emotional tweets on Sunday, November 21, Kieran Hebden revealed that his former label Domino had pulled three of his albums from streaming services. “This is heartbreaking to me,” the revered electronic producer better known as Four Tet wrote. Hebden noted that the removal of Four Tet’s first three Domino-issued albums—2001’s Pause, 2003’s Rounds, and 2005’s Everything Ecstatic—came as he was embroiled in a streaming royalties lawsuit against the venerable UK indie label that spawned Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand, adding, “I’m truly shocked that it has come to this.”

If Hebden isn’t necessarily a household name like Taylor Swift, whose pronouncements about the music industry tend to reverberate across the mainstream media, in part that’s also why his dispute with Domino could be significant. Four Tet’s battle for a bigger slice of the streaming pie arrived as UK lawmakers were mounting a high-profile debate over artists’ share of music royalties. A movement called the #BrokenRecord campaign asserted that streaming economics privileged “a rarefied few” at the expense of “a larger, secure, professional class of artist, songwriter, and performer.” As label revenues look set for record highs, the question of how to fairly divide the digital dollar has loomed large for the U.S. music industry.

“Obviously we’re all watching this case very closely,” said Charlie Anderson, a United Kingdom–based music litigation specialist who has worked with Daft Punk. “That these issues are moving through the UK court right now couldn’t be more timely.” He added, “Sadly, like cases in the U.S. that have come before, I think this one is likely to turn on contractual construction, and therefore probably won’t set any wider legal precedent that others can rely upon. But it may just sway the debate at a political and/or industry level.”

Hebden filed a claim against Domino in a London court in December 2020, as later reported by legal trade outlet Law360. The lawsuit focuses on the royalty rate that Domino owes for streams and digital downloads under Four Tet’s 2001 record contract. As also reported by UK music industry publications including Music Week, Hebden claimed that the contract suggests a “reasonable royalty rate” for streams and downloads would be at least 50 percent. Domino had instead been paying Hebden a rate of 18 percent on streams and downloads alike.

To arrive at the 50 percent figure, Four Tet’s lawyer seized on contract provisions regarding international and “flat fee” use of Hebden’s music. The deal reportedly says that Domino is obligated to pay out 50 percent of all royalties and fees received from licenses for music consumed outside the United Kingdom, as well as 50 percent of net proceeds generated by licensing recordings for a flat fee rather than a per-record royalty. Hebden’s lawyer contended that these clauses should have applied to most of his streaming and download income. (Apple, which opened the iTunes Store in 2003, is based in America while Spotify, which was launched in 2008, is based in Sweden.)

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