The people in charge at Domino Recording Company, to use their full name, must be feeling pretty stupid right now. Last year, Four Tet queried why he was being paid a derisory streaming royalty rate for songs recorded in the early 2000s. The label responded by citing his contract – despite the fact the aforementioned contract would have been written before streaming even came into existence.
The result? Four Tet – real name Kieran Hebden – was left with no choice but to pursue legal action against the label which owned a number of his old master recordings. That legal action has now been resolved, with Domino giving him almost everything he wanted – so we thought we’d take a closer look at what’s happened.
I have a bodacious update on my case with @Dominorecordco. 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 license rather than the same as a CD or vinyl sale.— Four Tet (@FourTet) June 20, 2022
First of all, this cannot be seen as a precedent for the music industry. Take no notice of anyone who claims this – they clearly don’t understand that only judge made rulings can be viewed as a precedent. This was a settlement offer to avoid the case having to go to full trial – so the swathes of record labels in disputes with artists over older contracts won’t be panicking just yet.
However, Ears To The House does have one or two questions over the whole case. Indeed, we have done for quite a while – the only reason we remained quiet on the subject until now is because the case was ongoing, and we would not wish to have done anything to potentially harm it. So here goes.
The first of those must surely be – have Domino sacked their lawyers yet? Because from the beginning, it looks like all they did was escalate the odds and antagonise Hebden. Take, for example, the decision to remove tracks by Hebden signed to Domino from streaming ahead of the trial.
From what Ears To The House understands, this decision was made on legal advice. Which sounds to us like the equivalent of pouring petrol onto a fire – just on what grounds did their lawyers advise antagonising Hebden by removing his music from streaming services was a good idea, and who on earth at Domino agreed to the idea?
Similarly, Domino upped the odds by demanding the case went to a higher court. From what we could see, their strategy appeared to be to financially cripple Hebden – thus preventing him from pursuing the case. We recall a certain Derrick May pursued this nasty strategy against journalist Michael James in a defamation case last year.
There was also the offer to settle. Why exactly was it made, and why now? Were Domino advised that they were likely to lose the case – which would have indeed led to an expensive precedent for both Domino and other record labels? This smacks of an exercise to save face.
The truth is Domino could have resolved this matter privately and quietly. They could have spoken with Hebden and came to an arrangement – but instead, they chose a hostile and aggressive approach which has now totally backfired on them.
And not only have they now had to give Hebden pretty much everything he wanted in the first place, they’ve now also irritated the rest of the music industry – who are likely to see this case cited anytime they try to enforce older contracts in this digital age.
Whilst Hebden has handled this case in a graceful and frank manner, Domino have shown a brash arrogance and hubris which has completely blown up in their faces. Ears To The House thinks an apology from the label to Hebden for their disgraceful behaviour throughout this case is in order…