Hundreds of songs from popular K-pop acts, including Sistar, IU, Monsta X, Epik High, and more, have been removed from Spotify in markets outside of South Korea. In a statement to the NME, Spotify confirmed that the songs would no longer be available “due to the expiration of our license.” But the Korean company that owns the rights to the songs claims that Spotify refuses to renew the global license to their catalog.
Korea’s Kakao M is one of Korea’s largest distributors, and also owns MelOn, the country’s largest digital streaming platform. Korea is the sixth-largest music market in the world. Spotify launched in South Korea just one month ago, on February 1, and while they continue to negotiate domestic licenses for Korean music, the deals governing Spotify’s licenses to stream music in markets outside Korea expired March 1.
Spotify claims that they were unable to renew the global licensing agreement, despite “working with Kakao M over the last year and a half” to reach a deal. But speaking to a local Korean news outlet, Kakao M representatives claim that Spotify has a policy that requires entering domestic and global agreements simultaneously, meaning that they could not renew the global rights without settling on domestic rights.
Some insiders have speculated that Kakao M’s ownership of MelOn, a direct competitor to Spotify in the Korean market, is likely to be a factor in negotiations, as the streaming giant’s control of large swaths of the global music market is powerful leverage in negotiations with domestic distributors. Spotify is now available in 178 countries, with 345 million monthly active listeners, and 155 million paid subscribers as of Q4 2020. MelOn has 8.81 million monthly active users.
While popular music comes and goes from the service in various markets as individual deals are signed or expire, Kakao M’s control of a large portion of Korean pop music—itself a global phenomenon—has made a more dramatic impact. And while negotiations with Spotify remain ongoing, Kakao M’s music remains available on other DSPs, including Deezer and Apple Music.