Spotify really, really wants to launch in India. The streaming company has been staffing up an office in Mumbai for a year, and finally suggested in website updates recently, after deflecting rumors for months, that January 31st would be the date it rolled out to 1.3 billion potential new customers. But that date came and went and now there’s a new snag: Warner Music Group, the third-largest music company in the world, is suing to block the launch.
Warner filed an injunction against Spotify in a court in Mumbai, claiming that Spotify “abruptly changed course” in licensing negotiations and left Warner with “no choice” but to pursue legal action to stall the service’s launch in India, Bloomberg reported on Monday. At issue is the fact that Spotify — which has already locked in deals with the other two major labels, Universal and Sony, in the country — hasn’t yet secured licenses for Warner’s music, but tried to get a statutory license (a type of license applied automatically, usually used by TV broadcasters and radio stations) to cover songwriting rights. According to a statement from Warner, Spotify “falsely asserted” the statutory license. But in Spotify’s version of events, Warner is engaging in “abusive behavior” and “revoked a previously agreed-upon publishing license for reasons wholly unrelated to Spotify’s launch in India.”
Things between the two devolved further: Spotify said on Monday afternoon that the local court had denied Warner’s request for an injunction, telling Music Business Worldwide that it is “pleased with today’s outcome” and “hopeful for a negotiated solution with Warner based on market rates.” Warner then called Spotify’s statement a complete lie, and added that “Spotify’s comments yesterday about our fair market negotiations were appalling to us.”
Yet on Tuesday, rumors began flying again that Spotify will launch in India this week, because the court did decline Warner’s emergency injunction, according to MBW. The price point has been revealed as roughly $1.67 a month, which is the same amount charged by rival service Apple Music in India.
Where does that leave Spotify’s relationship with Warner — or with the record business in general — if it does launch now? With the injunction blocked, Spotify and Warner are now in a four-week standstill in which the court will review the legality of of a statutory license. It’s not yet clear whether Spotify would be violating the terms of the holding period if it launches with Warner’s catalog, which includes the likes of Katy Perry and Led Zeppelin.
But regardless of what happens with Warner, the streaming service’s launch in India will be clouded with the dispute. Spotify and the major record labels have publicly butted heads repeatedly over licensing issues in the last few years, whether because Spotify was expanding to new territories, adding different content to its service, trying to negotiate more favorable payment deals, changing up its distribution strategy or otherwise tweaking its business — a trend that speaks to both Spotify’s escalating power and ambition in the music world. The harshness of language between Spotify and Warner in the India dispute is unusual; the fight itself is not.