From Stockholm to Stock Market: Sweden’s Spotify set to list on NYSE

Music streaming giant Spotify recently filed its application to put shares on the New York Stock Exchange. The 264 page document details the company’s key risks and challenges: I’ve read them so you don’t have to!

The Securities Exchange Act of 1933, often called the Truth in Securities law, requires that investors receive financial and other significant information concerning financial securities. To avoid misrepresentations and other fraud, any company wishing to place its shares on an American market must submit a prospectus, formally known as an SEC Form S-1 (or an F-1 for foreign companies).

Sweden-based Spotify filed their prospectus for the New York Stock Exchange on 28 February.  Prospectuses are heavily regulated, and accuracy is vital: it is a lawyer’s job to fact-check these documents in a process known as “verification.” To allow investors to make informed decisions, a company must be honest about its particular commercial situation, and explain how share prices may decline. Spotify’s estimated valuation is nearly $20 billion, but it has never made a profit and reports net losses of €1.2bn (£1.1bn).

Spotify clearly needs a capital injection,
but given the risks below, would you invest?

Hitting the right note with listeners.
Spotify’s unique features include advanced data analytics systems and proprietary algorithms which predict music that users will enjoy. These personalised streams rely on Spotify’s ability to gather and effectively analyse large amounts of data, together with acquiring and categorising new songs that appeal to “diverse and changing tastes.” If Spotify fails to accurately recommend and play music that customers want, the company may fail to retain or attract listeners.

Screenshot 2018-03-02 at 11.16.33 PM.png
Spotify knows that 71% of my recent tunes are energetic, upbeat, and suitable for a fitness enthusiast. Touché!

Licensing and royalties.
To make its 35 million tracks available for listeners, Spotify requires licenses from the musicians and record labels who own the songs. Additionally, Spotify has a complex royalty payment scheme, and it is difficult to estimate the amount payable to musicians under their license agreements. Even if Spotify secures the necessary rights to sound recordings from record labels and other copyright owners, artists may wish to discontinue licensing rights, hold back content, or increase their royalty fees. In 2014, Taylor Swift removed her songs from the streaming service in protest, although she later added it back.

Technical glitches and data protection.
Spotify’s software and networks are highly technical and may contain undetected bugs or other vulnerabilities, which could seriously harm their systems, data, and reputation. Growing concerns regarding privacy and protection of data, together with any failure (or appearance of failure) to comply with data protection laws, could diminish the value of Spotify’s service. This especially worth noting as Europe nears the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) implementation date of 25 May.

spotify nyc.jpg
Spotify’s NYC offices

Innovation and skilled employees.
Rapid innovation and long-term user engagement is prioritised over short-term financial gain. Spotify admits “this strategy may yield results that sometimes do not align with the market’s expectations.” The company also depends on highly skilled personnel to operate the business, and if they are unable to attract, retain, and motivate qualified employees, the ability to develop and successfully grow the company could be harmed.

International regulation and taxation.
As Spotify expands into new territories, it must adhere to a variety of different laws, including those in respect of internet regulation and net neutrality. Spotify even admits that language barriers, cultural differences, and political instability can bring share prices down! Furthermore, public pressure continues to encourage governments to adopt tougher corporate tax regimes, and tax audits or investigations could have a material adverse effect on the company’s finances.

Image result for bloomberg spotify

Method of offering.
While Spotify may not be able to successfully overcome each challenge listed in its prospectus, many of the risks are relatively common amongst international technology and media companies. But as an additional risk, Spotify has chosen a relatively unconventional method known as a direct public offering (DPO) to bring its shares to the stock market. Unlike a traditional IPO, in a DPO a company will not use an investment bank to market or underwrite (insure) its offering. While this avoids bank fees, uncertainty can result in a discounting of share prices. This is a really technical point and somewhat nuanced (it gave me headaches in law school!) but a risk worth noting.

I’ve written previously about Spotify’s copyright challenges, as well as its controversial privacy policy

All the Stars and Constellations

A music video for the new Black Panther film features scenes of striking similarity to artist Lina Iris Viktor’s Constellations series. Is this inspiration or infringement?

Marvel Studios’ new movie Black Panther features the first black superhero to appear in mainstream comics. It has received widespread acclaim and press, not least because of its positive portrayal of Africans and African Americans as powerful, heroic characters. In its review, The New York Times exclaims that the film “is a vivid re-imagination of something black Americans have cherished for centuries — Africa as a dream of our wholeness, greatness and self-realisation.”

To promote the film and its soundtrack, American rapper and songwriter Kendrick Lamar, together with American R&B singer SZA, recently released a music video entitled “All the Stars.” However, the producers of the music video are now accused of stealing from African artists.

British-Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor, who currently resides in New York, has garnered praise for her series Constellations. The work is characterised by unique patterning, using what Viktor considers a “purist colour palate” of only black and 24-karat gold. Viktor found out about the music video from friends, who had called her to say they had seen Constellations featured in the video. The alleged infringement begins three minutes into the video, and lasts for about 20 seconds.

a screen shot of the “All the Stars” music video

Viktor’s lawyer Christopher Robinson sent a letter to Lamar’s mentor and label head, Anthony Tiffith of Top Dawg Entertainment. In the letter, as seen and reported by The New York Times, the use of Viktor’s artworks in the “All the Stars” video constitutes “willful and egregious” copyright infringement. In particular, the video “incorporates not just the immediately-identifiable and unique look” of Viktor’s work, but also “many of the specific copyrightable elements in the Constellations paintings.”

Viktor was previously contacted on two separate occasions in respect of using her work in association with Black Panther. In the first instance, a set decorator asked Viktor directly if he could feature Constellations in the film itself. On the second occasion, a public relations firm contacted the Mariane Ibrahim Gallery in Seattle, which represents Viktor. The PR firm wanted Viktor to provide Marvel Studios and Disney with artworks to promote Black Panther. In both instances, Viktor declined the opportunity to be associated with the film, for reasons apparently related to financial terms and exclusivity.

Lina Iris Viktor, pictured here with her artwork for House & Leisure Magazine

Constellations and “All the Stars” call into question the fine line between infringement and inspiration. Style and general colour schemes are not protected by copyright law, regardless of the form in which it is illustrated or embodied (17 USC Section 102(b)).

Segments of Kendrick’s music video clearly appear to have been inspired by Viktor’s artwork. There are several striking commonalities with the patterns and colour schemes used, and certain actors’ poses mimic Viktor’s portraits. One could even argue that the name “All the Stars” echoes Viktor’s Constellations title.

Inspiration is a common and important part of most creative processes. The issue of concern is whether the source of inspiration was transformed to the extent that Lamar’s video was itself “original,” or instead “derived” from Viktor’s work. To answer this question, the two artworks must be compared to determine “substantially similarity.” The legal test for substantial similarity is a subjective, factual analysis called the ordinary observer test, as developed in Peter Pan Fabrics, Inc. v. Martin Weiner Corp., (2d Cir. 1960):

The Court will analyse if the ordinary observer, unless he set out to detect the disparities between the works, would be inclined to overlook them and regard the aesthetic appeal of the two works as the same. This means looking at the overall visual effect — the total concept and feel — regardless of the individual elements that may have been changed, added or even removed.

Left, an image from the video for “All the Stars” (Universal Music Group); right, the painting “Constellation I” by Viktor (Mariane Ibrahim Gallery).

At present, no official lawsuit has been filed at court. The letter simply asks the “All the Stars” crew to discuss a resolution of Viktor’s claims, “consisting at a minimum of a public apology for the unauthorised use and a license fee.” In her interview with The New York Times, Viktor explained that these allegations are “an ethical issue” and not about monetary compensation. She noted that the film’s creators focus on black empowerment and African excellence, but at the same time appear to support what she considers cultural appropriation. Lamar, Top Dawg, Marvel Studios and Disney have not yet responded to the allegations.

In an attempt to settle this allegation as quickly as possible, and indeed – to protect the narrative of promoting African and African American artists in general – Black Panther producers may simply choose to give Viktor an apology and a considerable licence fee. Given that the film is expected to smash box office records, and the Black Panther soundtrack has likewise become a hit with audiences, coming up with compensation is unlikely to be too much of a problem.

That robot took my theatre ticket!

The UK’s Digital Economy Act 2017 is to be amended by the Breaching Limits on Ticket Sales Regulations, which will criminalise use of internet bots to bypass limits on ticket purchases set by event organisers. 

In practice, the problem is not necessarily how the tickets are purchased – by bots or otherwise – but rather, the crazy prices fans are forced to pay on the secondary market.

When tickets first go on sale for an event, they hit the primary market. If somebody resells their ticket, they do so on the secondary market. This secondary market is estimated to be worth more than £1bn ($1.4b) per year in the UK alone. When resales are done on a large scale or for considerable profit, it’s known as “touting” or “scalping”.

Touting in the digital age.  “Bots” are software applications that run automated tasks (scripts) over the internet, used for years to quickly buy up thousands of tickets at lightening speed. By way of example, American company Prestige Entertainment is alleged to have bought over 300,000 tickets in a two-year period. This included 30,000 Hamilton Tickets and, in another instance, bought over 1,000 tickets to a U2 concert in less than one minute (see Ticketmaster v Prestige Entertainment, case 2:2017cv07232).

High and dry.  When ticket supply is drastically limited, the bot masters (“power sellers”) can resell the bot-obtained tickets to fans at high mark-ups. Tickets for Radiohead’s 2016 show had a face value of £65, but were placed on Viagogo for £3,934. A ticket for Adele’s concert in London was listed on Get Me In! for an eye-watering £24,840.

Facebook won’t stop the music

Before I started law school, I spoke to a lawyer at Universal Music about licensing, copyright, and other fascets of law pertaining to the music industry. Since becoming a lawyer myself, I’m even more fascinated by the ways in which commercial contracts, digital strategy, artists’ rights and expression interact with and shape each other: Facebook’s new global, multi-year agreements with Universal and Sony Music are perfect examples of such dynamism.

Facebook first inked a deal with Universal Music in late December 2017. The deal with Sony,  the largest music publisher in the world, was announced on 9 January. These deals allow Facebook and Instagram users to upload homemade video clips containing songs owned by Universal or Sony, without generating a takedown notice.

A Soundtrack for Data Security

So much of the explosion in innovation in the music industry is around technological processes. But artists still need to focus on their art. To do so, they need to surround themselves with tech-savvy people. And hire a good lawyer.
– Gigi Johnson, Director of the Center for Music Innovation, University of California Los Angeles

Privacy policies are painful to read, not least because they’re very technical, boring, and long. According to a recent study, if the average person read every privacy policy for each website they visited in a given year, it would take approximately 244 hours, or 40 minutes each and every day. In spite of this, privacy policies have begun to attract mainstream attention.

MP3s crossing a Europe without borders

When I was in Germany several years ago, I attempted to play a music video on YouTube that I had first seen in the United Kingdom. It was blocked on copyright grounds. I wondered, if the European Union guarantees the free movement of goods and services between Member States (which the UK and Germany both are), how could Germany block access to music I could freely access back home in London?

This question inspired my Masters Thesis, which explored European copyright law in the context of digital music services. I even got to interview the head of licencing at Spotify as part of my research!