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vKontakte launches subscription music service

By | Published on Wednesday 4 May 2016


It seems that Russia’s leading social network vKontakte is finally making good on its long-standing promise to transform all the sneaky song stealers on its platform into trustworthy music consumers with the launch of its own subscription music app.

As much previously reported, both Russian and Western music companies have been long-time critics of vKontakte, which has been home to rampant copyright infringement over the years as users share music across the network. Various legal battles have been fought, with some local music companies succeeding in court, though major litigation by the major record companies generally went more in vKontakte’s favour.

Nevertheless, the global music firms remained vocal critics of the social media business for sometime, with record industry trade group the IFPI often portraying the Russian service as the world’s champion copyright abuser, before everyone decided that was actually YouTube.

But after the majors decided to go legal against vKontakte, Sony Music subsequently withdrew from the proceedings last year saying it had reached a ‘goodwill agreement’ with the social media business. Then last month Warner Music also announced it had settled with vKontakte, adding that the social network had allied with another Russian business to launch a licensed streaming service, to which the mini-major had licensed its content.

That service is presumably the new music app that has just gone live. vKontakte has long expressed ambitions to be a player in the legit streaming market in Russia, while also insisting that it has implemented a multitude of measures to stop the unlicensed distribution of music across its social network.

The labels were never especially convinced by the latter claims, and initially it seemed that they wouldn’t play ball on the legit service plan until the file-sharing issue had been properly addressed. Though it seems that most have now agreed to basically turn a blind eye to the ongoing illegal music distribution, for the time being at least, while the licensed vKontakte music set-up gets off the ground. The hope, presumably, is that if the new streaming service works, vKontakte has a commercial incentive to stop piracy elsewhere in its platform.

Sony and Warner content is accompanied by tracks from a number of Russian music firms on the new service. Universal Music remains the holdout on doing a deal with vKontakte, though local media says an agreement with the mega-major may be close.

Those ongoing licensing talks are presumably being sweetened by the $10 million a year that vKontakte is also reported to be pledging to pay the music companies on the back of its new music play. Which may prove to an ambitious commitment, especially given all users are currently on a 90 day free trial, and price point beyond that is yet to be revealed.

But perhaps vKontakte actually can make it work, and lose its (nearly) top foe status by becoming the music industry’s new best mate.