July 7, 2023

Essence Festival Sues Spotify For Unsanctioned Use Of Its Branding

Essence Festival of Culture is suing Spotify for using its branding without permission, according to The Guardian. The festival’s lawyers say they are taking a stand against the “intentional exploitation of Black culture.”.

Essence Festival of Culture 

Essence Festival of Culture is held over the Fourth of July weekend in New Orleans with music performances, inspirational speakers, and proactive conversations about gender, race, culture, and art.

It was started in 1994 as a one-time event to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Essence – a magazine aimed at African American women. Since then, the annual event has become the nation’s premier contemporary African American music and culture showcase.

This year’s event included performances by Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, and Megan Thee Stallion and talks by Oprah Winfrey and Vice President Kamala Harris.

The festival aims to provide resources to Black communities, such as health, wealth, and civil engagement.

The Guardian reports that over the years, the festival has emerged as a highly lucrative gathering for both city and surrounding regions of Southeast Louisiana, with organizers estimating that the economic impact on the area was $327 million and employing over 3000 people for the event.

Essence and Spotify

The lawsuit claims that Spotify last year hosted an event using the branding of the Essence Festival without permission, as attorneys say the case represents a stand against “intentional exploitation of Black culture.”

The duo had an agreement in 2019 where Essence authorized Spotify to use the festival’s marks to promote and host their event “House of Are and Be.”

Negotiations, however, fell through during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the Essence festival was canceled. The Guardian reports that Spotify and Essence never renewed their 2019 permissions, but Spotify continued promoting the event in 2022, naming it a ‘return.’

The festival’s legal team sent Spotify a lawsuit on June 23 asking for compensation. They claim the event in question was held within a zone where only entities with permission could advertise or sell merchandise associated with the Essence Fest.

The venue where the event was hosted and its owner, a local real estate developer, is also being sued by the festival.

Exploitation of Black Culture

Leader of Essence’s legal team James Williams, said, “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.”

He said that we must protect and celebrate companies collaborating with our businesses to create and return value in our communities and defend our rights and values against those who exploit our businesses and community.

Featured image credit: Nola.com/  Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Essence

Sara Keenan

Tech Reporter at POCIT. Following her master's degree in journalism, Sara cultivated a deep passion for writing and driving positive change for Black and Brown individuals across all areas of life. This passion expanded to include the experiences of Black and Brown people in tech thanks to her internship experience as an editorial assistant at a tech startup.