Spotify Is The Latest Target Of Essence Fest Legal Team

Spotify Is The Latest Target Of Essence Fest Legal Team

The Essence Festival of Culture’s legal team has had a busy week, and Spotify appears to be their latest target. The organizers of the New Orleans-based festival and celebration of Black music and culture have alleged that the streaming giant violated the terms of a 2019 agreement giving Spotify the right to use some of the festival’s branding for an event.

As The Guardian reports, central to the lawsuit is the idea that Spotify is being extremely liberal with its use of Black culture. James Williams, the head of the Essence Fest legal team, released a statement establishing a pattern of behavior by the streaming company.

“The unsanctioned Spotify … action … is yet another example of the historic, intentional exploitation of Black culture, Black [intellectual property], Black creators, Black businesses and Black equity,” Williams explained.

“We must protect and celebrate those companies that collaborate with our businesses to create and return value in our communities and defend our rights and value against those that chose to exploit our businesses and community.”

The two sides were supposed to renegotiate the agreement as part of a longer term partnership between them, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020 the Essence Fest was canceled. As a result, no new agreement was reached when Spotify decided to bill its House of Are & Be event at Essence Fest in 2022 as a return to the festival’s line-up.

Essence Fest had also decided to pursue litigation against Baldwin & Co Coffee and Bookstore, which is a Black-owned bookstore in New Orleans. Essence Fest claimed the bookstore had promoted an event during 2023’s Essence Fest celebrating Black authors as though it was part of Essence Fest. Following social media backlash which included questions as to why Essence seemed to be targeting a Black-owned business with a much smaller imprint, they dropped the lawsuit against the bookstore but are still pursuing a suit against the event’s organizer, Tamika Newhouse. Essence Fest is also pursuing a suit against two other companies, laying the same claims against those parties as they are against Spotify. Namely, the way the events were promoted amounted to a dilution of Essence Fest’s brand identity and Essence maintained on Twitter that artists were led to believe they were participating in an official Essence Fest event when they were in fact not.

Debates about the responsibility of corporations to be ethical in their treatment of elements of culture that do not belong to them are certainly nothing new. However, this case throws into sharp relief how carefully companies that are essentially stewards of Black culture have to move when leveraging that culture into bigger branding opportunities. In a pursuit to expand the footprint of the Essence Festival of Culture beyond the City of New Orleans, Essence has found itself in the middle of a bigger discussion about the risks that such moves sometimes carry.

Spotify and companies like them certainly didn’t get to be billion-dollar companies by being paragons of ethical morality. As the saying goes, there are no ethical billionaires and the same is certainly true of billion-dollar corporations like Spotify.

RELATED CONTENTJuvenile Added To Essence Festival Hip-Hop Lineup After Speaking Out