Tidal faces legal jeopardy over fake stream numbers accusation

Jay-Z Tidal 4:44

Accusations that Tidal faked millions of music streams continue to dog the company. As of Monday, January 14, Norwegian prosecutors say they have begun an investigation into the May 2018 claims of Norwegian newspaper, Dagens Naeringsliv (DN), that Tidal had manipulated listener data for two of its biggest artists: Kanye West and Beyoncé.

Despite the fact that Tidal has repeatedly denied the fraud accusations, and has questioned the motivation of DN, Norway’s National Authority for Investigation and Prosecution of Economic and Environmental Crime (Okokrim) has begun the process of determining if there is any validity to the claims. While DN’s reporting might not have been enough to prompt an investigation on its own, the story became the impetus behind the filing of an official police complaint against Tidal by Norwegian collection society Tono, which represents around 30,000 songwriters, according to Music Business Worldwide.

If there is any truth to the allegations, it could mean serious trouble for the four-year-old streaming business that is owned by Beyoncé’s husband, Jay-Z. In 2017, Jay-Z’s holding company sold a 33 percent stake in Tidal to Sprint.

In response to this development, Tidal has released the following statement:

“Tidal is not a suspect in the investigation. We are communicating with Økokrim. From the very beginning, DN has quoted documents that they have not shared with us in spite of repeated requests. DN has repeatedly made claims based on information we believe may be falsified. We are aware that at least one person we suspected of theft has been questioned. We cannot comment further at this time and refer to our previous statement, which still stands.”

At the center of the investigation is an analysis of streaming data that DN created in collaboration with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, producing a report which claims that more than 320 million false plays had been logged for the two albums on more than 1.7 million user accounts. In March 2016, Tidal claimed that Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo had streamed 250 million times in 10 days. It also claimed that Beyonce’s Lemonade had 306 million plays in just 15 days following its release. The publication further claims that Tidal has also failed to make royalty payments to some major labels since October 2017.

For its part, Tidal responded to the original accusation saying, “this is a smear campaign from a publication that once referred to [Chief Operating Officer Lior Tibon] as an ‘Israeli intelligence officer’ and our owner as a ‘crack dealer,’” Tidal said in a statement. “We expect nothing less from them than this ridiculous story, lies, and falsehoods. The information was stolen and manipulated. And we will fight these claims vigorously.” Tidal followed up by opening its own internal investigation into the data: “We have engaged an independent, third party cyber-security firm to conduct a review of what happened and help us further protect the security and integrity of our data. We are proud of the hard work, devotion to our artist driven mission, and tremendous accomplishments of our over one hundred employees in Norway and fifty more in the United States. We look forward to sharing with them, and all of our partners, the results of the review once completed.”

DN’s full report has still not been made public, but in the end, it may not matter if the numbers can be proven one way or the other. According to Okokrim’s Chief Public Prosecutor, Elisabeth Harbo-Lervik, at least four former Tidal employees have been questioned in connection with the investigation. Crucially, one of these employees was Tidal’s head of business intelligence — responsible for analyzing streaming figures, according to DN.

While it’s possible that there is no merit to DN’s claims, Kanye West’s reason for leaving the subscription service in 2017 was that he was owed $3 million. If true, that would lend credibility to at least one portion of DN’s accusations.

It has hardly been smooth sailing for Tidal since its launch. The streaming service has dealt with numerous leadership changes, issues with accidental subscription renewals and charges, and allegations of unpaid royalties, and more. Still, the service continues to look for new ways to grow, having recently inked a deal with Plex, and now lets its Android users get the full quality of its Masters MQA collection without any additional hardware.

Updated to include Tidal’s statement on the investigation, and it’s original statement on its internal investigation.

Features

Netflix’s latest price increase heralds the end of streaming’s golden age

Netflix’s recent price rise is just the latest in a string of signs that streaming’s golden age is nearly over. As more services enter the fray, content will be further partitioned, signaling the end of streaming’s good old days.
Business

Apple banned from distributing some iPhone models in Germany

Apple is following the FTC's lead and has sued Qualcomm for a massive $1 billion in the U.S., $145 million in China, and also in the U.K., claiming the company charged onerous royalties for its patented tech.
Home Theater

Plex is the latest player to contemplate the subscription streaming game

With massive reach thanks to its client app being supported virtually every media device on the planet, Plex is now looking at the future of its media curation platform. A future that may include free and subscription services.
Mobile

Huawei in for a rough year as feds investigate alleged trade secrets theft

Huawei is also facing issues in the U.S., but it doesn't seem like that will end any time soon. According to a new report, the company is facing a federal investigation in the U.S. for allegedly stealing trade secrets.
Home Theater

5 gorgeous turntables that spin stacks of wax in style for less than $500

Vinyl records are awesome, but they're also finicky. To get the best out of your stacks of wax, it's best to play them on a quality turntable. Here are the best turntables to be had for under $500.
Music

The best free music download sites that are totally legal

Finding music that is both free and legal to download can be difficult. We've handpicked a selection of the best free music download sites for you to legally download your next favorite album.
Home Theater

Mobile masters: Tidal’s better-than-CD MQA tracks come to Android

Audiophile-grade music tracks and streaming music services don't come together very often, and when they do, it's not always easy to find a device that plays them. That's no longer the case as Tidal's MQA tracks now work on Android.
Music

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Which service is the streaming king?

Apple Music is giving Spotify a run for its money, but which service is best for you? In our Apple Music vs. Spotify showdown, we compare and contrast all we know about the two streaming music services.
Mobile

From true crime to comedy, here's our list of the best podcasts around

When you aren’t in the music mood, podcasts can be your ear candy. Whether you love to stay up-to-date on the latest news or want to know what’s happening in sports, you’ll find something on our must-listen-to podcast roundup.
Mobile

Music junkie? Here are the 24 best music apps for consuming and creating tunes

We rummaged through the iOS and Android app stores to find the finest mobile music-creation and music-consumption apps in existence. No matter if you're on Android or iOS, here are the best music apps.
Home Theater

Mobile audio gets an upgrade thanks to new Sonarworks apps

Sonarworks is used by audio engineers around the world to get more accurate sound from their headphones. Today, the company launched Android and iOS apps for the same ability on mobile devices.
Computing

Don't use streaming apps? Try the best free media players for your local music

Rather than using music-streaming apps, you may want something for playing your local music. Good news! There are some good alternatives. These are the best media players you can download for free on Windows.
Computing

Don't spend hundreds on Pro Tools or Logic. Try one of these free alternatives

Believe it or not, Pro Tools isn't the only digital audio workstation worth your time. Check out our picks for the best free recording software, whether you're looking for a lightweight app or a full-blown audio workstation.