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Criminal Complaints And Industry Investigations Target Tidal

May 14, 2018
Originally published on May 14, 2018 3:12 pm

The streaming platform Tidal, whose most public owner and champion is rapper and entrepreneur Jay-Z, is facing heavy criticism and possible legal action from several Scandinavian artist organizations and other entities after a Norwegian business newspaper alleged last week that the company had faked hundreds of millions of plays on Beyoncé's Lemonade and Kanye West's The Life of Pablo.

That paper, Dagens Naeringsliv (DN), published its original findings on May 9. DN says it was surreptitiously given hard drive that contained internal Tidal play data, and worked with researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who analyzed the hard drive logs.

A lawyer for Tidal named Jordan W. Siev told the Norwegian paper that he believes the data was stolen, and that "DN exhibits complete lack of understanding of the data." Moreover, Tidal denies that any play data has been manipulated, or that any royalty structures have changed.

On Monday, a team of DN journalists published a trio of follow-up stories. In one of those reports, DN purports to show that in the past year, Tidal has lowered payments to labels from 62.5 percent to 55 percent, without renegotiating terms. (The company has, since launching, billed itself as the streaming platform that pays the most to creators; DN says that a 55 percent payout puts Tidal on equal footing with Spotify and Apple Music's terms.) Daniel Nordgård, the chair of GramArt, the Norwegian musicians' association, called the situation "a complete breach of trust."

Tidal is co-owned by a consortium of high-powered recording artists, including the two artists whose streaming plays were allegedly manipulated — Jay-Z's wife, Beyoncé, and Kanye West — as well as Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Daft Punk, Jack White, Arcade Fire and others; in early 2017, Sprint bought a 33 percent stake in the company for $200 million.

In a statement last week, Tidal attempted to discredit the Norwegian media outlet, saying: "This is a smear campaign from a publication that once referred to our employee as an 'Israeli intelligence officer' and our owner as a 'crack dealer.' 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."

Nevertheless, several Scandinavian organizations have decided to take action based on DN's reporting. TONO, the Norwegian collection society for composers, lyricists and music publishers, has filed a report with Okokrim, Norway's prosecuting and police authority that is charged with fighting economic and environmental crime. Koda, Tono's sister organization in Denmark, announced on Monday that it is demanding an independent audit of Tidal's numbers. GramArt, the professional musicians' association in Norway, also demanded an audit of Tidal's data and says that if payouts have been withheld, it will be seeking money from Tidal on behalf of its members.

In addition, the Norwegian arm of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) has announced that it will be reviewing the Norwegian albums and singles charts, which rely on Nielsen SoundScan data and are published weekly in the newspaper VG.

Tidal did not respond immediately to NPR's requests for comment on Monday. Both Sony and Universal, which released or distributed the Beyoncé and Kanye West albums, declined to comment to NPR last week about the original DN report.

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