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Warner Chappell and Spotify end legal battle in India

By | Published on Tuesday 14 January 2020


Warner Chappell has signed a new multi-territory licensing deal for its Anglo-American repertoire with Spotify, and one of the territories covered is India. Which means the ongoing legal squabble between the major and the streaming company in that country is now over. So that’s no fun at all.

Spotify finally launched in India, a key emerging market for the streaming firm, last February. However, it didn’t have deals in place with Warner as it launched in the country, meaning it has been unable to make the mini-major’s recordings available to its users in that market.

It also meant that it didn’t have a license to stream Anglo-American works published by the Warner Chappell music publishing business, which has chosen to do direct deals with the streaming services for that repertoire in India, rather that licensing via the local collecting society.

The lack of a songs licence was a bigger problem for Spotify. While it’s annoying to have to block all of Warner’s recordings from its users in India, technically that’s quite easy to do.

However, Warner Chappell will have stakes in all sorts of songs contained in recordings pushed into the Spotify system by other labels. Technically those recordings would need to be blocked too. That is extra annoying but also more tricky, because of the widely documented problems around music rights data, meaning Spotify wouldn’t necessarily know which tracks it had to block.

Faced with that challenge, Spotify looked for a get-out. And the get-out it found was a statutory licence under Indian copyright law which, it reckoned, covered on-demand streaming. That – Spotify said – meant that, although Warner Chappell still needed to be paid when its songs were streamed, it couldn’t actually force those works off the Spotify platform.

Although there are statutory licences covering both the mechanical copying and broadcast of songs under the Indian copyright system, Warner Chappell and the wider music publishing community argued that those definitely don’t cover on-demand streaming, and Spotify was therefore deliberately misinterpreting Indian copyright law to claim that they did.

Both sides issued terse statements, with Spotify alleging that Warner was playing hardball in India as part of wider deal negotiations not actually relevant to that market. Meanwhile, Warner went to court seeking confirmation that the statutory licences cited by Spotify did not apply to an on-demand streaming service.

That legal squabble has been working its way through the system ever since. But no more! Warner Chappell now has a deal with Spotify that covers India, meaning no statutory licences are being relied upon. And to that end, both sides have asked the court to dismiss the ongoing legal action.

Confirming all that, a spokesperson for Warner said this morning: “We’re happy with this outcome. This new deal appropriately values our songwriters’ music and expands our licensed partnership with Spotify to include India”.

Meanwhile, Spotify said in a statement: “In less than a year, millions of Indian listeners have joined Spotify, listening to their favourite artists and songwriters from across the globe. 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”.

The new deal is specifically with Warner Chappell, not the Warner Music record labels, which means negotiations regarding streaming the recordings catalogue in India continue.