On 26th April 2018 a bunch of the licensing agreements for music featured in Grand Theft Auto IV will expire. The game was initially released worldwide on PS3 and Xbox 360 on 29th April 2008, so it looks like there were 10-year agreements in place which will shortly lapse. This exact situation has happened with Grand Theft Auto games before: the PC version of GTA: Vice City temporarily disappeared thanks to a dispute over a Michael Jackson license, and GTA: San Andreas had a PC patch that removed songs. In both cases this happened around ten years after those games' release dates.
With San Andreas in particular, players were angry because the changes weren't flagged in advance, and so folk were downloading a patch without realising it removed content from the game. One industry source says GTAIV is losing "a lot" of music but could not provide a list of tracks. I contacted Rockstar asking for a list of the tracks to be removed and clarification on other matters.
UPDATE: Rockstar has confirmed the news, full statement at the end of the article.
There's also something interesting happening beforehand. GTAIV owners on PlayStation 3 will, at some point before 26th April, receive system messages prompting them to download new songs. I'm not entirely sure what kind of rights management juggling is going on here, but this will apparently let players replace the tunes in their PS3 copy of the game. It is unclear whether Xbox and PC players will have the same option, though likely.
Rockstar is one of the games industry's greatest creators. Few development groups can maintain its level of secrecy at such scale, and the success of the GTA series means Rockstar sets the terms when engaging with the outside world — whether that's players or press.
But neglecting to inform players before parts of a product are removed was a mistake with San Andreas, and people aren't expecting this one either. It seems odd to be secretive about what is at bottom a boring legal issue (no-one thinks Rockstar wants to do this) in a decade-old game, especially when this time around there will be a solution for especially concerned players. Rockstar is a cool company. But sometimes it's best to put the shades to one side, and just be straightforward with your customers.
UPDATED 11/04/18 — Corrected a confusion over whether the upcoming download would allow users to keep the songs, or replace them with new songs, following this statement provided by Rockstar.
Due to music licensing restrictions, we are required to remove certain songs from the in-game soundtrack of Grand Theft Auto IV and its Episodes, in particular a large portion of the Russian pop station, Vladivostok FM. However we are replacing some of those songs with a new set of songs on that station. We will update our customer support website with new information as soon as it is available.