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Spotify’s India plans hit a snag as Warner Music sues to block top songwriters

The lawsuit escalates a dispute between the third-largest music group and Spotify, which is said to plan introducing its service in India in the next few weeks.

tech Updated: Feb 26, 2019 13:18 IST
Lucas Shaw
Lucas Shaw
Bloomberg
Warner Music,Katy Perry,Spotify
Spotify, whose audio service has more than 200 million users across 78 countries, has been attempting to enter the Indian market for some time(Bloomberg)

Warner Music Group asked an Indian court to block Spotify Technology SA, the world’s largest paid-music-streaming service, from offering songs by its roster of songwriters, including Katy Perry and Led Zeppelin, in the country.

The filing was made with the Bombay High Court, according to a document seen by Bloomberg. Warner said in a statement Monday it asked an Indian court for an injunction. Bloomberg wasn’t immediately able to verify the lawsuit with the court.

The lawsuit escalates a dispute between the third-largest music group and Spotify, which is said to plan introducing its service in India in the next few weeks. It’s also the latest hurdle in Spotify’s bumpy path to India, one of the Stockholm-based company’s biggest untapped markets.

Spotify hasn’t secured a license to music from Warner Music Group but said in an emailed statement that it plans to use an Indian rule that governs radio stations to offer songs from Warner’s publishing division, Warner/Chappell Music, and would continue to assess its options.

Lucrative Market

India is potentially a lucrative market. Music sales climbed 17 % to $130.7 million in 2017 in the country, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. Rival streaming services have already gained a foothold amid the proliferation of high-speed internet there.

Spotify had been in talks to get a license for Warner’s music but the streaming company “abruptly changed course” by falsely saying that a rule applicable to broadcasters applies to Spotify as well, Warner Music Group said in a statement. “We had no choice but to ask an Indian court for an injunction to prevent this.”

Warner “revoked a previously agreed-upon publishing license for reasons wholly unrelated to Spotify’s launch in India,” Spotify said in its statement. The streaming company said Warner’s publishing arm “remains the lone holdout needed for a Spotify launch in India.”

Spotify, whose audio service has more than 200 million users across 78 countries, has been attempting to enter the Indian market for some time, and has already secured deals with the largest local record labels. Domestic music such as that from Bollywood movies accounts for the majority of songs listened to in the country, but major labels still represent the biggest pop acts in the world.

Musical Gaps

Under Spotify’s current plan, it still wouldn’t be able to offer music from Warner’s record label, which represents Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran and Cardi B. Publishing companies represent songwriters, while record labels work with the recording artist and producer. The diffuse nature of publishing rights means the holdout of Warner/Chappell affects music from many other labels. Katy Perry, for example, is a Universal recording artist.Spotify and Warner have been at loggerheads for months now, and Spotify informed Warner late last week about its plan to use the radio-station rule.

First Published: Feb 26, 2019 13:18 IST