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“Spot” your favourite song! Music,Licence and Copyright.

Ever wondered why your favourite song suddenly disappeared from Spotify?

Spotify, as we know, is a digital music, podcast, and video service that gives public access to millions of songs and other content from creators all over the world.[1] Users of the application can stream, download songs, build playlists et cetera. However, it is seen that sometimes a song or multiple songs from your playlist suddenly go missing.

For instance, popular songs like Apna Bana Le (Bhediya), Apna Time Ayega (Gully Boy), Maiyya Mainu (Jersey), amongst others, were recently removed from Spotify’s platform. The reason for such removal was failed negotiations with Zee Music Company for renewal of their license agreement. Thus, Spotify had to take down the entire catalogue of Bollywood songs owned by Zee Music Company.

In a statement to Billboard, Spotify said: “Spotify and Zee Music have been unable to reach a licensing agreement.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.”[2]

So does this mean that streaming platforms or music applications do not own the rights to the songs/movies they play?

Let us understand this in terms of Copyright law. As we know, the Indian Copyright Act, 1957 protects original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works and cinematograph films and sound recordings from unauthorized uses. Therefore, it becomes necessary to seek due authorization or permission from the copyright owner to exploit or use their work in a lawful manner. In order to exploit or use a sound recording (sound recording can be understood as a recording which has sounds such as voice of the performer or singer, background music or music, lyrics, et cetera. and its underlying works such as lyrics, music, composition et cetera), it is necessary to obtain licences from each and every right owner in the sound recording. This would, inter alia, include the producer of the sound recording, the lyricist who wrote the lyrics, and the musician who composed the music.[3]

There are many right holders in a song or musical sound recording[4]. Thus, a sound recording generally comprises of various rights. For instance, lyricist writes the lyrics, composer sets the music, singer sings the song, musician (s) perform the background music, and the person or company who produces the sound recording.[5] Typically, the producer is the one who takes the initiative and responsibility for making the work and thus, is often considered the owner of a sound recording. [6]

It is important to note here that licence does not mean assignment or transfer of ownership. Licence merely refers to permission or authorization from the copyright owner to use their works in a lawful manner without violating their rights. Section 30 of The Copyright Act provides that the owner of the copyright in any existing work or the prospective owner of the copyright in any future work may grant any interest in the right by licence in writing by him or by his duly authorised agent. The Indian Copyright Law provides for different types of licences such as compulsory license, statutory license for cover versions and statutory licence for broadcasting of literary and musical works and sound recording.

Accordingly, like other streaming platforms, Spotify negotiates licensing deals with publishers and rights owners to use their works. The licence terms include, among other things, relationship between the parties, repertoire of songs being licenced, term of use/licence, fee or royalty payable to the publishers and right owners. Such licence agreements are for a fixed period of time and can be renewed or revised periodically. Therefore, the licensees such as streaming platforms or music applications cannot use the licensed works beyond the licenced period if the same is not renewed or extended. As music listeners, we would always hope that such deals mature and help us access more songs.

[4] “sound recording” means a recording of sounds from which such sounds may be produced regardless of the medium on which such recording is made or the method by which the sounds are produced. Section 2 (xx), The Copyright Act, 1957.

[6] Section 2 (uu), The Copyright Act, 1957.


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