K-pop fans stunned as Kakao M songs removed from Spotify due to licensing tussle

·4-min read
INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 09:  IU performs during Incheon K-POP Concert 2012 at Munhak Sports Complex on September 9, 2012 in Incheon, South Korea.  (Photo by The Chosunilbo JNS/Multi-Bits via Getty Images)
INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 09: IU performs during Incheon K-POP Concert 2012 at Munhak Sports Complex on September 9, 2012 in Incheon, South Korea. (Photo by The Chosunilbo JNS/Multi-Bits via Getty Images)

If you're a big fan of K-pop music and try scrolling down your playlist in Spotify now, chances are that you won't see many songs from your favourite artists.

Kakao M ended their licensing agreement with Spotify on 1 March, which resulted in hundreds of K-pop songs being pulled from the streaming platform. The music company is one of the largest distributors and co-publishing companies in South Korea, whose back catalogue includes music from IU, MonstaX and Epik High.

On the same day, Spotify launched their app in South Korea on both Google Play Store and Apple App Store, allowing South Koreans access to 60,000 songs and 4 billion playlists on the streaming giant's platform.

Naturally, fans pointed to conflicts of interest which were rumoured to have soured the licensing agreement, despite Spotify going on the record to clarify that their launch had nothing to do with the expiration of the licensing agreement.

The company’s spokesperson stated, “The matter of our global licensing agreement is unrelated to the launch of our service in South Korea.”

“We feel that this situation is deeply unfortunate for many artists, as well as fans and listeners all over the world, and we sincerely hope that we will be able to quickly resolve the current situation,” they continued. “We will continue to do our utmost so that we can keep working with Korean rights holders, including Kakao M, and help both the Korean music market and overall streaming ecosystem grow together.”

Netizens have been up in arms over the removal of their favourite songs from Spotify, taking to Twitter to air their discontent.

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Artists like Epik High's Tablo also expressed his frustrations on Twitter.

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Founder of EN Management Eddie Nam tweeted a response to Tablo, saying that he "has never heard of an artist's music taken down against his own will.'' EN management is home to artists like Eric Nam, Epik High and Will Leong.

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A fan account of boyband group SEVENTEEN said the band lost nearly one billion streams after their music was removed from Spotify.

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This latest falling through of a key licensing agreement with a stakeholder can be seen as a dulling of Spotify's usually keen competitive edge to bring the latest and most popular music to its users, and has called the streaming giant's ability to secure new music contracts into question.

It also comes in the wake of Apple Music's failure to secure local music contracts when it entered the South Korean music market in 2016.

"Despite our best efforts, the existing licensing deal we had with Kakao M (which covered all countries other than South Korea) has come to an end," said a spokesperson for Spotify.

"It is our hope that this disruption will be temporary and we can resolve the situation soon. We remain committed to working with local rights holders including Kakao M, to help grow the Korean music market and overall streaming ecosystem together," added the spokesperson.

Kako M also owns companies like Melon, Genie and Flo which are direct competitors to Spotify in the South Korean market. It remains yet to be seen if both parties will be able to resolve their differences amicably, or if the removed songs will return to Spotify.

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