Spotify and Warner Chappell End Long-Standing Licensing Dispute In India

Kunal Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Mumbai, India

The development paves the way for the service to finally stream Warner Music’s catalog in the country.

MUMBAI — Nearly a year after its launch here, Spotify announced that it has signed a multi-territory licensing agreement with Warner Chappell Music, which includes India. The deal brings an end to a dispute between the digital service and the publishing company, which have mutually agreed to withdraw any ongoing litigation in the Bombay High Court.

"We're happy with this outcome," a spokesperson for Warner Chappell Music, which was advised and represented by prominent entertainment lawyer Priyanka Khimani, said in a statement released to the press today. "This new deal appropriately values our songwriters' music and expands our licensed partnership with Spotify to include India."

Consequently, the licensing deal could lead to improved results for Spotify, the global streaming leader, in a sprawling market dominated by domestic services, including JioSaavn and Gaana.  

The suit, which was jointly withdrawn by the parties on Tuesday, had delayed Spotify's much-awaited arrival in India. At the time, Spotify claimed it had outlined a deal with Warner, the terms of which the major changed at the last moment, thereby stymying its India launch. Spotify accused Warner of using the rights to their music as a pawn in their negotiations for the renewal of their global licensing deal. This, said Spotify, compelled them to invoke Section 31D, a controversial section of the Indian Copyright Act that grants "broadcasting organizations" a statutory license.

Spotify asserted that as an "internet broadcasting company,” they were entitled to use Warner's songs even in the absence of a license, leading Warner Chappell Music to file an injunction against the company in the Bombay High Court. The service was allowed to commence operations on Feb. 27, 2019, after depositing rupees 6.5 crore (approximately $917,500 at the current exchange rate) with the court, which would be held until the case was ruled. After numerous hearings and delays, the most recent of which was scheduled this week, the dispute remained unresolved until today.

The news brings relief to Spotify as they seemed unlikely to win the suit, given that the presiding judge's decision in a similar case in May 2019, wherein he ruled in favor of Indian record label Tips Industries. Tips had taken local streaming service Wynk Music to court for using its music without an agreement by claiming a statutory license.

Notably, Spotify users in India have been able to access music by artists signed to Warner Chappell Music including Beyonce, Katy Perry, Kendrick Lamar, Radiohead and Rihanna. However, tracks from artists signed to Warner Music including Ed Sheeran and Coldplay will remain missing from the platform until Spotify inks a deal with the label, something industry insiders believe the agreement with Warner Chappell Music has paved the way for, and should happen within the next few months.

When that occurs, it should help Spotify cover some lost ground in the Indian market, where it competes with over half-a-dozen rival platforms including a trio — Gaana, JioSaavn and Wynk Music — which claim to have over 100 million monthly active users. Spotify's most recently announced MAU count is two million, a figure they announced in March 2019.

That number has likely grown, given that the most streamed track on Spotify India every week averages around a million plays. However today's statement offers no new stats. "In less than a year, millions of Indian listeners have joined Spotify, listening to their favorite artists and songwriters from across the globe," a spokesperson from Spotify said. "We're pleased with this agreement, and together with Warner Chappell Music, we look forward to helping songwriters and artists connect with more fans, and for more fans to enjoy and be inspired by their music."


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