Warner Music moves Bombay HC against Spotify ahead of its launch

MUMBAI: The Bombay high court on Tuesday directed Spotify AB to deposit Rs 6.5 crore in court in a legal battle over music rights launched against it by Warner/Chappel Music paving the way for the Swedish music streaming giant to launch its services in India anytime soon.

Warner Music Ltd has launched the legal battle against Spotify AB on Monday, a day before the Swedish music-streaming giant was set to launch its services in India. The US music major had moved the high court to restrain Spotify from accessing and offering a repertoire of songs published by Warner/Chappel Music sans a valid license from it.

The court had granted no injunction to stay any part of Spotify’s plans for its India launch. The music and streaming giants were before the Indian court on Tuesday. The hearing went on for a couple of hours with a break in between.

All rights and contentions of both parties were kept open for hearing in the dispute on merits and the matter posted for directions after four weeks.

Warner/Chappel Music Ltd, described as the “artist friendly home to everyone from Katy Perry to Kendrick Lamar, and Kacey Musgraves to Lucas Graham’’ with rights to over a million songs moved the Indian court on Monday. It sought an injunction to bar Spotify from offering songs it had published. Spotify’s claim is can stream the songs under a statutory license.

For Warner/Chappel Music, senior counsel Janak Dwarkadas had submitted before Justice SJ Kathawalla that without a licence to reproduce the work or make copies of the work it is not open for Spotify to allow streaming or downloads. He said the reason was “because for territories such as Europe, Middle East and Africa, they (Spotify) have taken such a license from Warner Music” which he also added, “amounted to an admission that without a license they can not offer it here, in respect of the same repertoire of the works of these artists.” That’s one argument. The alternate argument by Warner counsel was that under the Copyright Act the statutory license can be obtained only by broadcasting organisations like radio and television for broadcasting purposes but that does not include the right to reproduce the underlying musical work or make copies of it.

The claim by Spotify, as submitted by senior counsel Aspi Chinoy, was to a statutory license under section 31D of Copyright Act. The court asked Spotify if it was willing to pay a deposit and to pay any other amount as maybe directed pending any appeal. It agreed. There was no injunction against the launch.

Justice Kathawalla, had on Monday orally initially even asked both parties to see if they could work out the matter. When they couldn’t, the matter was posted for further hearing on Tuesday.

The order passed on Tuesday is without prejudice to rights of both parties to go before IPAB regarding a statutory right as claimed by Spotify which Warner has contested, wth regard to exploitation of Warner music’s musical rights.
Spotify also has to maintain complete account of use of Warner’s music work as well.
Undertakings given in court were accepted and Justice Kathawalla directed Spotify to file it’s reply within 3 weeks and then Warner Music to file rejoinder within a week thereafter. The matter will be heard after four weeks.
Spotify spokesperson later said, “We’re pleased with today’s outcome. It ensures songwriters, artists, labels and publishers will benefit from the financial opportunity of the Indian market and that consumers will enjoy an excellent Spotify experience. As we’ve said all along, we’re hopeful for a negotiated solution with Warner based on market rates.”

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