Focus on the Spotify case


MANOJ K SINGH and SAMRIDH AHUJA explore compulsory licensing in India’s copyright regime

The eagerly awaited music streaming app, Spotify, launched in India on 28 February 2019 mired in multiple controversies as music labels Warner Music Group and Saregama India filed for injunction; Saregama was successful in its pursuit.

Manoj K Singh

Spotify agreed to remove Saregama’s entire catalogue from its offerings in India. A large number of interested parties including broadcasters, labels, artists, and consumers will be affected by how these issues unfold.

Spotify and Warner were previously involved in protracted negotiations regarding the terms of the licensing agreement, but were unsuccessful in reaching a consensus. Instead of going through the voluntarily licensing route, Spotify decided to obtain a statutory licence through section 31D of the Copyright Act, 1957.

Section 31D was introduced by the 2012 Amendment to the Copyright Act, which enabled broadcasters to communicate to the public, a work that has already been published, after payment of royalty as fixed by the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB). It must be noted that, unlike the Patents Act in India, there is no requirement on the licensee to first try to obtain a voluntary licence over the subject matter from the copyright owner.


Although when this amendment was first introduced, the interest of radio broadcasters was kept in consideration while introducing section 31D, an office memorandum by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (earlier known as Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, or DIPP) in 2016 extended the ambit of section 31D to include internet broadcasters.

Samridh Ahuja

The validity of this memorandum has been questioned time and again, as inclusion of internet broadcasters under the ambit of broadcasters per se clearly was an act of creative statutory interpretation, or a quasi-legislative act, by the then DIPP. The term “broadcast” is defined in section 2(ff), where it refers to “communication to the public”, whereas internet streaming services like Spotify or Youtube go beyond communication to the public as they also indulge in making available to the public and downloading (reproduction). They also get the option to reproduce the copyrighted work in the form of downloading and sharing.

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