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Ruling against Indian streaming service could have implications for Spotify’s battle with Warner

By | Published on Thursday 9 May 2019


Indian record label Tips has won a court case against a local streaming service based in the country called Wynk. Which is interesting because the dispute had parallels with the much higher profile bust up between Spotify and Warner Music over the former’s Indian service. Not least that it centred on the same piece of Indian copyright law and was overseen by the same judge. Long story short, it’s not looking that great for Spotify.

Tips and Wynk fell out in 2017 after failing to agree new licensing terms. Tips then requested that Wynk remove its catalogue, to which the service responded by saying it didn’t have to because it was covered by a compulsory licence under Indian law that was traditionally intended for broadcasters. Tips then launched legal action claiming copyright infringement.

At the conclusion of the trial this week, according to Billboard, Mumbai High Court judge SJ Kathawalla ruled in favour of the label, saying that Wynk was “knowingly infringing upon the plaintiff’s copyrights”. He also dismissed claims by Wynk that the label was simply trying to force its hand in licensing negotiations.

The judge said that he had seen an increase in digital music companies attempting to claim protection under Section 31-D of India’s Copyright Act. However, he went on, this “amounts to usurpation of the exclusive rights of the owners to commercially rent, sell or communicate to the public their sound recordings” and claims of legal protection do “not meet the legislative purpose” of the Act.

This all looks fairly dismal for Spotify, which is currently fighting a very similar case against Warner Music. The mini-major refused Spotify a licence for India – a licence that would have covered both its recordings and the Anglo-American songs repertoire of its publisher Warner/Chappell. Spotify then accused Warner of refusing that licence late in the day as leverage in global deal negotiations that have nothing to do with its Indian launch.

Warner refusing a licence for its songs catalogue created problems for Spotify because it will impact on any recordings from other labels that contain Warner/Chappell songs and also plenty of songs that are co-owned by other publishers with which the streaming service has a licence. Spotify itself pointed out that Warner could control just 1% of a song and, by refusing a licence, recordings of that song technically couldn’t stream.

On top of that, there is the issue that Spotify doesn’t usually know what songs it is actually streaming, the labels and distributors uploading tracks but providing no precise information on what song any one recording contains. Therefore, Warner withholding its songs catalogue was arguably more problematic than it refusing to allow its recordings to be streamed.

In an attempt to counter this manoeuvre on the major’s part, Spotify decreed that it reckoned it could rely on the same statutory licence that was at the heart of the Wynk case for Warner’s songs in India. Warner went legal, calling for an immediate injunction against Spotify, which was denied. But the case still rumbles on, and this new ruling would seem to give some indication of how things might ultimately go.