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Meta has been under fire for removing the repertoire of Italian collecting society SIAE from its services, but that’s not the only music-removals story of the week. Spotify has removed the catalogue of Indian rightsholder Zee Music, after licensing talks between the two companies reached an impasse.

The removal has been causing a stir because it means one of the biggest current hits in India, ‘Apna Bana Le’ from the film ‘Bhediya’, can no longer be streamed on Spotify. While Zee Music has yet to comment publicly, Spotify offered its side of the story in a statement to Billboard.

“Spotify and Zee Music have been unable to reach a licensing agreement,” said its spokesperson. “Throughout these negotiations, Spotify has tried to find creative ways to strike a deal with Zee Music and will continue our good faith negotiations in hopes of finding a mutually agreeable solution soon.”

So, this is NOT a case of licensing talks breaking down entirely, since (according to Spotify at least) those talks are continuing. It’s a case of a catalogue being pulled during such negotiations, which can be seen either as an unfortunate legal necessity, or a hardball (even bullying) negotiation tactic, depending where you stand. Without Zee Music’s side, we’ll reserve judgement.

What we won’t sit on the fence on is this: both sides are harmed by Zee Music’s catalogue not being available on Spotify. India is a key market for the streaming service. In February 2022, Spotify said that it had more than doubled its subscribers there in the previous year, while external reports suggested it was already the biggest DSP outside YouTube in India in terms of the volume of streams.

Spotify has worked hard to grow its audience in India, and back in February 2021 CEO Daniel Ek told Music Ally that “I believe 100% that we’re going to see a rise of Bollywood and new types of Indian music making it into the global scene in the very near future”.

Falling out with one of the prominent rightsholders of that music – including currently-hot hits – wouldn’t be part of those plans. Yet for Zee Music, too, access to Spotify’s audience is important both domestically and internationally. It’s a lose-lose dispute, so a speedy resolution would be welcome.

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Stuart Dredge

Music Ally's Head of Insight

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