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K-Pop Back on Spotify After Deal With Kakao

Music streaming leader Spotify says it has reached an agreement with Kakao Entertainment (previously known as KakaoM), making their content available on the platform across the globe, including for the first time in South Korea.

As reported in The Licensing Letter, Kakao and Spotify were in a bitter dispute over music rights that saw hundreds of popular K-pop songs removed from Spotify, raising the ire of Spotify customers who are K-pop fans.

The dispute came up when Spotify’s licensing agreement with Kakao expired, at the same time that the streamer was trying to negotiate access to the South Korean market. Kakao also operates a music streaming business in South Korea called Melon, and when the license expired without an agreement, Spotify pulled the distributor’s artists from its playlists.

The ensuing uproar from fans of both services, however, appears to have compelled the two companies to make nice, and this week artists like IU and APink are again playing on fans’ Spotify accounts.

“We are pleased that Kakao Entertainment’s content and artists are back on Spotify, allowing our 345M+ global listeners across 170 countries to once again enjoy the music they love,” said Spotify in a statement. “Spotify’s mission has always been to connect artists to their fans all over the world and to give listeners access to all of the world’s music. We are delighted that our Korean listeners will now also be able to enjoy this local music alongside our 70 million+ songs and 4 billion+ playlists. We remain committed to making a positive impact on Korea’s music streaming ecosystem through our partnerships with artists, labels, and local rights holders.”

Kakao also put out a statement to mark the end of the dispute.  “Kakao Entertainment Corp. has entered into an agreement with Spotify and will sequentially provide its music content to Spotify for service in and beyond Korea,” the company said. “Through its diverse partnerships around the world including Spotify, Kakao Entertainment hopes that music lovers around the world can easily access its artists’ and music content to enjoy K-pop. Kakao Entertainment remains committed to the Korean music ecosystem and its growth and will continue protecting the rights of artists, labels and local rights holders going forward.”

The announcement ends a dispute that began on March 1 when millions of users discovered some of their favorite K-pop songs had been removed from their playlist. Spotify announced the same day that the move was related to the license expiry, saying, “Spotify can confirm that starting March 1, 2021, Kakao M’s catalogue will no longer be available to our listeners worldwide due to the expiration of our license. We have been working with Kakao M over the last year and a half to renew the global licensing agreement. It is our hope that this disruption will be temporary and we can resolve the situation soon.”

The Yonhap news agency quoted Kakao as saying dispute was related to Spotify’s policy under which it seeks worldwide content deals spanning both local and international services, which would have put the service into direct competition with Melon, which has 8.81 million subscribers.

However, while Spotify is a newcomer to the South Korean market, the company is also one of the major ways in which K-pop artists have penetrated the world market.  According to Spotify, the service has 155 million subscribers and 345 million average monthly users.

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