TIDAL under criminal investigation over “Fake Streams” in Norway

Multiple artist owned music streaming service TIDAL have found themselves in the middle of a major alleged “fake streams” scandal in Norway and are now currently under criminal investigation.

Norwegian financial newspaper Dagens Næringsliv reported they had obtained an internal TIDAL company hard drive which allegedly showed the platform’s play-counts for two major 2016 albums – Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” and Kanye West’s “The Life Of Pablo” which had been artificially inflated, therefore faking the artists’ streaming numbers, which has put Jay-Z, aka Shawn Carter in a bit of a sticky situation, since he’s the main owner of TIDAL, after purchasing and taking over the streaming service in 2015.

“Beyonce and Kanye West’s listener numbers on TIDAL have been manipulated to the tune of several hundred million false plays…which has generated massive royalty payouts at the expense of other artists.” the newspaper reported.

TIDAL’S CEO Richard Sanders denied DN’s claim, but the company opened a review into a potential breach anyway. This review was undertaken by a third-party security company, who aimed to “aggressively pursue multiple avenues available to uncover what occurred.”

However, no results have been published as of yet. Following DN’s report, Norweigen collection society, Tono, which represents approximately 30,000 songwriters, filed an official police complaint against TIDAL.

TIDAL find themselves in serious hot water after the discovery of fraudulent streaming numbers, earning them revenue for at least two albums specifically tied to Jay-Z. Credit: SheerID

DN have now reported that Norway’s National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime (Økokrim) have started a full-blown investigation into potential “fake streams” at TIDAL.

Elisabeth Harbo-Lervik, Økokrim’s Chief Public Prosecutor, confirmed that Norweigen authorities have officially launched this investigation, which aims to prove or disprove the suspicion of TIDAL’s streaming volume manipulation during the autumn of last year.

Harbo-Lervik stated that the inquiries are “still in an early stage”. However, DN have reported that so far three former TIDAL employees have been questioned before a judge, and have faced over 25 hours of questioning in total.

Out of this group, two of them were business analysts whilst the third was the company’s Head of Business Intelligence, and was ultimately responsible for analysing streaming figures.

DN claimed that while they were still employees of TIDAL in Norway, they allegedly recognised signs of manipulation regarding the Beyoncé and Kanye West albums. The group then contacted a lawyer before cautioning TIDAL management about their discoveries, prompting an internal meeting.

“TIDAL has previously stated that they consider themselves to be insulted by DN’s allegations, so the company should have vested interest in getting information on the table that will tell us anything about a possible manipulation,” Harbo-Lervik said to DN. “But we’re still waiting for them to offer this information.”

Jay-Z speaking at the launch of TIDAL, flagged by numerous artists. Credit: EDMTunes

TIDAL’s lawyer, Fredrik Berg from the law firm Fend, stated: “TIDAL is at this time not a suspect nor has there been filed charges. We have an ongoing dialogue with Økokrim. It would not be right to share the contents of this discussion with the press.”

According to DN’s original report, at least 320 million TIDAL plays across both Lemonade and The Life Of Pablo in 2016 are believed to have been manipulated. The newspaper interviewed individual subscribers of the service, who claimed there were plays of these albums recorded on their accounts which they didn’t recognise.

It was further reported that DN had gained access to record company royalty payment reports which revealed that TIDAL paid Sony $4 million across April and May of 2016. Of this, Lemonade accounted for an estimated $2.5 million.

As for The Life of Pablo, DN reported that TIDAL paid Universal a total of €3.2 million during February and March 2016. From this, the album delivered around €2 million.

The newspaper hired the NTNU’s Center for Cyber and Information Security (CCIS) to forensically investigate the data obtained on TIDAL’s plays. The report concluded: “We have through advanced statistical analysis determined that there has in fact been a manipulation of the [TIDAL] data at particular times. The manipulation appears targeted towards a very specific set of track IDs, related to two distinct albums.”

So, what will become of TIDAL after this? Who knows, but whether they’re found guilty or not, this will leave them with somewhat of a damaged reputation. Perhaps, it’s better to just stick to Spotify or Apple Music from now on.


Story by Emily Clark

Featured Photo Credit: Innovationvillage

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