However, Rogan has come under more intense scrutiny over the past year. Last spring, Spotify removed 42 of Rogan’s episodes that featured controversial guests and topics. And earlier this month, 270 health wrote an open letter to Rogan criticizing him for a history of “broadcasting misinformation, particularly regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.”
After it became clear that Spotify would not be removing Rogan’s show, Young made good on his pledge, but he couldn’t do it alone—he had to ask his record label first.
So who owns Neil Young’s songs?
Like many artists, Young was unable to independently pull his own music from Spotify because he was not fully in control of his licensing rights.
The licensing rights to Young’s music are owned by Warner Bros – Reprise Records, his record company. Warner Bros is in charge of striking deals with third parties, such as Spotify, which can reproduce Young’s work.
“Before I told my friends at Warner Bros about my desire to leave the Spotify platform, I was reminded by my own legal forces that contractually I did not have the control of my music to do that,” Young wrote on his official website Wednesday. “I want to thank my truly great and supportive record company Warner Brothers – Reprise Records, for standing with me in my decision to pull all my music from Spotify. Thank You!”
Warner Bros did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.
Many other artists don’t own the rights to their songs
Young is far from the only artist to negotiate with their record label over how their music is used, as many musicians who get drawn into lucrative record deals early in their career never have a chance to own their rights at all.
Prince, another artist associated with Warner Brothers, was famously involved in a decades-long battle with his record company over the ownership rights of his music.
When a musician makes a deal with a record company, it usually means that any licensing agreement, such as the one between Young’s label and Spotify, cannot be undone by the artist alone, because they are no longer in full control of their music.
Spotify has substantial leverage over the labels they are partnered with and the music rights they represent, and the majority of revenue made by record labels today comes from deals with major streaming platforms. Young has said that 60% of his music’s streaming income originated from his label’s deal with Spotify.
So who owns their own songs?
Some artists have fought to retain creative control and publishing rights for their music, known as master recordings, which are basically ownership of copyrights to use an artist’s music.
Rapper Jay-Z became one of the first to do so in 2004 when he negotiated to have his rights returned to him after becoming president of his own record label.
Frank Ocean, U2, and Taylor Swift are also in possession of many of their own masters, with Swift having gone as far as to re-record entire an album to reclaim control.
That means that they can do what they want with them, like independently pull them completely from a streaming platform without permission from anyone else.
But an artist maintaining all rights to their music is rare—contracts with new artists are set up early in the artist’s career, often when they first sign a deal with a record label, so that the record company retains the right to legal ownership of masters, not the artist.
Several artists, including Adele, Thom Yorke, and The Black Keys have criticized record labels’ licensing deals with Spotify in the past for not properly compensating musicians for their work. These musicians all have fought to keep their music off the platform, although all eventually gave in and allowed their labels to license agreements with Spotify.
Neil Young wasn’t bluffing.
Spotify said on Wednesday that it had begun removing the singer’s music from the streaming service, two days after he briefly posted a public letter calling on Spotify to choose between him and Joe Rogan, the star podcast host who has been accused of spreading misinformation about the coronavirus and vaccines.
Young’s challenge to Spotify has become a high-profile, if unexpected, flash point in the battle over misinformation and free speech online. It also raised questions about the power of performing artists to control where their work is heard.
In a statement posted to his website on Wednesday, Young called Spotify “the home of life threatening Covid misinformation.” He added: “Lies being sold for money.”
His criticism of Rogan — a comedian and actor who has become Spotify’s most popular podcast host, sometimes speaking at great length with controversial figures — came after a group of hundreds of scientists, professors and public health experts asked Spotify to take down an episode of Rogan’s show from Dec. 31. That episode, featuring Dr. Robert Malone, an infectious-disease expert, promoted “several falsehoods about Covid-19 vaccines,” according to the group’s public letter, which was issued on Jan. 10.
Spotify said in a statement on Wednesday: “We want all the world’s music and audio content to be available to Spotify users. With that comes great responsibility in balancing both safety for listeners and freedom for creators. We have detailed content policies in place and we’ve removed over 20,000 podcast episodes related to Covid since the start of the pandemic.”
“We regret Neil’s decision to remove his music from Spotify,” the service added, “but hope to welcome him back soon.”
Young’s most popular songs, like “Heart of Gold,” “Harvest Moon” and “Old Man,” have been radio staples for decades, and have attracted hundreds of millions of streams on Spotify. In his statement on Wednesday, Young said that Spotify represented 60 percent of the streams of his music around the world.
Young’s music was expected to be fully removed from Spotify within hours. The news that the service was removing his songs was earlier reported by The Wall Street Journal.
In his original letter, which Young addressed to his label, Warner Records, and his manager, he said: “Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform. I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform.”
He added: “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”
That letter was removed from Young’s website soon after it was posted, though it drew wide news media attention.
The Coronavirus Pandemic: Key Things to Know
Card 1 of 4
Omicron in retreat. Though the U.S. is still facing overwhelmed hospitals and more than 2,400 deaths a day, encouraging signs are emerging as new cases start to fall nationally. But experts warned that spotty immunity and the threat of new variants mean the virus is not likely to ever completely disappear.
Vaccine mandate. The deadline has arrived for many unvaccinated health care workers in the U.S. to get a first dose of the vaccine under a federal mandate. The rule, coming in stages, will ultimately affect about 10 million workers in the sector.
Around the world. Lockdowns in India have shut students out of the classroom for nearly two years, threatening the middle-class dreams of families and dimming the country’s economic future. In the U.K., the virus has contributed to an enormous backlog of non-Covid patients in the country’s free health system.
Staying safe. Worried about spreading Covid? Keep yourself and others safe by following some basic guidance on when to test, which mask to pick and how to use at-home virus tests. Here is what to do if you test positive for the coronavirus.
Rogan, a comedian and actor, signed an exclusive podcast deal with Spotify in 2020 that has been reported to be worth $100 million, though Spotify has not confirmed that figure. His show is the most popular on Spotify.
Spotify has defended Rogan in the past, including after an episode that featured the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in 2020. “We want creators to create,” Daniel Ek, the chief executive and co-founder of Spotify, told The Financial Times then. “It’s what they do best. We’re not looking to play a role in what they should say.”
Spotify has 318 million monthly listeners around the world, including 172 million who pay for subscriptions, according to the company’s most recent financial disclosures.
In the past, Young has removed his music from streaming services, only to quietly reinstate it. In 2015, after making complaints about the quality of sound on streaming, he took his music down from all major audio streaming services, including Spotify and its biggest rival, Apple Music. But it was added back soon after.
Although virtually all of Young’s music had been removed from Spotify by Thursday — a handful of live recordings and other miscellaneous tracks remained — it is widely available for streaming elsewhere, including on Apple Music, Amazon and YouTube.
Young also operates a subscription service through his own website, Neil Young Archives, offering access to his entire catalog for $20 a year. On Thursday, SiriusXM announced that it was bringing back “Neil Young Radio,” a curated station that it had introduced last month. It will run as a satellite station for a week, and for a month on the company’s