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Spotify: India entry, copyright wars and all that jazz

Warner Music said it hoped the dispute with the streaming major in India is just a speed bump in their global partnership.

Feb 27, 2019 by The Passage Team
Spotify: India entry, copyright wars and all that jazz

Spotify, which claims to offer more than 40 million songs and 3 billion playlists, has finally launched in India. The Stockholm-based company will now compete with the likes of Apple Music, Jio Saavn, Google Play Music and Amazon Music in the country.

The music streaming app was available for download on Tuesday evening, just hours after the publishing division of Warner Music Group (WMG), Warner/Chappell Music (WCM), filed an injunction in the Bombay high court to prevent Spotify from offering songs by its roster of songwriters, including Katy Perry, Cardi B and Led Zeppelin. The high court asked Spotify AB to deposit Rs 6.5 crore (USD 911K) and posted the matter for hearing after four weeks.

“As Spotify grows, our goal is to bring millions of artists and billions of fans together from every country and background,” said Daniel Ek, Spotify’s founder and CEO, in a statement. “India has an incredibly rich music culture, and to best serve this market, we’re launching a custom-built experience. Not only will Spotify bring Indian artists to the world, we will also bring the world’s music to fans across India. We have been working towards this goal for quite some time, and I am thrilled with today’s launch.”

Spotify had revealed its intention to enter India last year. Ahead of its IPO in the New York Stock Exchange in April 2018, Ek had said they were working on launching in some of the biggest markets in the world, including India, Russia, countries in Africa, and others. Its IPO filings had revealed it was already leasing office space in Mumbai.

Then in a post-earnings conference call in November 2018, Ek said the fragmented marketplace in India, "with lots of different local labels, lots of different local publishers," was making it difficult to predict Spotify’s launch. In January this year, Spotify cracked a licensing deal with T-Series, an India-based record label which also has the second-most subscribers on YouTube. Spotify’s launch was further delayed because of pending deals with Sony, Universal and Warner.

The deal with Warner was the last hurdle in Spotify’s launch in India. Spotify said that Warner “revoked a previously agreed-upon publishing license for reasons wholly unrelated to Spotify’s launch in India.” Spotify alleged this was being done by Warner to extract concessions in WMG’s global renewal negotiations for musical recordings. This led Spotify to rely on Section 31D of India’s Copyright Act, which says “broadcasters” can obtain a license for copyrighted works even if the copyright owner denies use.

We had no choice but to ask an Indian court for an injunction to prevent this, a Warner Music spokesperson had responded. The company said Spotify abruptly changed course after months of negotiations, and that it “has falsely asserted a statutory license for our songwriters’ music publishing rights in India. It’s our goal to hammer out a deal that works for everyone. We hope this is just a speed bump in the expansion of our long and successful global partnership.”

Spotify is currently allowing songs on demand, a premium service, even for free subscribers in India. The premium subscription, available for free for 30 days and then at a price of Rs 119 per month and Rs 1,189 per year, gives users an ad-free experience and allows them to download music. It is also offering “no-commitment” prepaid plans for the premium service, at Rs 13 a day and Rs 39 a week. Users can pay for these recharges via UPI too.

Spotify said the India launch comes on the heels of their recent expansion across MENA (Middle East and North Africa region) and Southeast Asia, bringing the total number of Spotify markets to 79. Spotify claims it now has more than 200 million users, including more than 87 million subscribers.

The Passage Team

The Passage is committed to creating in-depth content over technology industry across Asia with a focus on emerging startups in the technology, healthcare, education, food, tech, travel & mobility segments.

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