Tidal is facing legal trouble and not just claims for monetary damages; parties seeking recourse against them are filing criminal charges against Tidal for grossly inflating their numbers for the number of times that Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo” and Beyonce’s “Lemonade” were played.
An “anonyomous source” (likely a disgruntled Tidal inside man) reached out to Dagens Naeringsliv. a Norwegian publication that has taken an interest in Jay-Z and Tidal, and informed the newspaper that Tidal used genuine user accounts to manipulate the number of streams, resulting in over 320 million false plays of Life of Pablo and Lemonade. Based on the tip, and in conjunction with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, a report was produced examining the subscriber lists and the number of plays, times of streams, per subscriber. Some of the subscribers were contacted and questioned about the likelihood of streaming one particular song over 800 times in the wee hours of the morning and their responses backed up the claims of impropriety on behalf of Tidal.
Tono is the Norwegian collection society and they represent somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 songwriters, composers, lyricists in Norway and over 2.5 million songwriters worldwide. Since learning of the report, Tono filed an official complaint with the Norwegian police authorities. While police have confirmed that an official complaint was lodged, they have not decided whether or not an active and ongoing investigation will follow. The Danish collection society, Koda has recently announced that it will be conducting its own independent audit of Tidal’s data so that they are able to determine what losses, if any, their artists have suffered as a result of this fiasco. And other music organizations are coming for Tidal too.
Last I knew, at the time of the release of both albums at issue, Tidal’s subscriber numbers were around 1 million. With 1 million subscribers and over 320 million streams for both albums, we’re looking at least 300 plays per subscriber. And we know the world loves Kanye and Beyonce. Well Kanye’s not exactly a fan favorite these days, but back at that time, he was still considered by most to be the G.O.A.T. And Beyonce…we know how the world feels about Beyonce. But we also know Beyonce doesn’t usually chart well – that most of her bank comes from touring. And Lemonade wasn’t exactly her best work (I’m allergic to bee stings so Beyhive, stay at bay). Funny thing is I actually remember having this conversation with a colleague of mine years ago when these numbers were charting, and she thought the numbers were being fudged. Fast forward a couple years later and someone let the cat out the bag.
At any rate, Tidal has vehemently denied all allegations and believe that the newspaper’s allegations are a smear campaign designed to tarnish Jay-Z’s brand and image. Tono believes the investigation will be in Tidal’s favor as well since Tidal is claiming that the results of the report were based on stolen and inaccurate data. This isn’t Tidal’s first claim of fraudulent activity. The same Norwegian newspaper covered a story on Tidal last year, alleging that they were falsely reporting its subscriber numbers in March of 2016. Jay-Z ran into that issue with the former Tidal owners himself at the time of purchase because the subscriber numbers were well below what former owners reported them to be at the time of the sale.
This is all bad, bad, bad. I hope to goodness Tidal didn’t do what they’re being accused of because there are just so many moving parts and so many things that could have been messed up because of it. If this is true, the other artists at Tidal could have claims against them. Other artists worldwide could as well. That means Life of Pablo and Lemonade did not do the numbers they claimed to have done, so billboard charts were skewed, other artist’s ratings were messed up, music awards and publications that have gone out…all based on misinformation. There’s no way to even begin to undo all of the madness to determine who shoulda, coulda, woulda and when.
Lerae Funderburg, Esq. is the Managing Attorney at Funderburg Law, LLC, an Atlanta based entertainment law firm. Lerae has almost 10 years of experience in entertainment law in both music law and film law. As an entertainment lawyer and blogger, Lerae keeps her viewers and subscribers up to date with entertainment law news, especially in the areas of music, copyright law and trademark law. If you are local to Atlanta, call and set up a consultation! She would love to hear from you!