Streaming fraud leads to prison sentence for Danish man in case called ‘historic’ by artists’ groups

Streaming fraud and manipulated audio are two of the biggest headaches in the music industry today – and a criminal case in Denmark highlights how the two problems can go hand in hand.

A man in Denmark’s East Jutland region has been sentenced to 18 months in prison, after he was found guilty of data fraud and copyright infringement.

Prosecutors said the 53-year-old man, whom Danish media have not named, used bots to artificially inflate the stream count on 689 tracks he had uploaded to streaming services including Apple Music, Spotify, and YouSee Musik.

During the trial in February, prosecutors said 244 tracks were “listened to” 5.5 million times in one week, with a majority of those streams going to 20 subscription accounts, Wired reported.

It’s impossible for genuine listeners to have racked up such a high number of listens on such a small number of accounts in such a short time, prosecutors said, and the defendant likely employed unauthorized techniques to rack up the streams (i.e. bots).

Moreover, prosecutors said the tracks the defendant uploaded were not his own: they were other artists’ work that had their tempo and length changed, according to The Guardian. He was found guilty of breaching copyright on 37 tracks.

The fraud reportedly took place between 2013 and 2019. Between 2014 and 2017, the defendant was the 46th highest-earning composer from streaming in Denmark.

Prosecutors originally claimed the defendant had earned DKK 4.38 million (USD $635,000) on the fraudulent streams, but ultimately only DKK 2 million in earnings ($290,000) could be proven.

The court ordered DKK 2 million to be confiscated from the defendant, and added a DKK 200,000 ($29,000) fine.

The defendant indicated in court that he plans to appeal the verdict.

According to the Danish Rights Alliance, as cited by Wired, the defendant had 69 accounts with various music streaming services, including 20 on Spotify alone.

“It’s a historic verdict that sends a strong signal about the severity of stream manipulation challenges.”

Maria Fredenslund, Danish Rights Alliance

“We are pleased that the court has affirmed that streaming fraud is deeply criminal and serious. It’s a historic verdict that sends a strong signal about the severity of stream manipulation challenges,” Danish Rights Alliance CEO Maria Fredenslund said, as quoted by The Guardian.

“The case also shows that this type of fraud can be detected, and that both rights holders and authorities take the issue seriously.”

She added: “It will be an important starting point to prevent similar cases in the future, especially with the development [of] artificial intelligence.”

“It’s truly an important and historic case, and it sends a message that you cannot infringe upon our rights as songwriters,” said Anna Lidell, Chair of Autor, a Danish association for composers, lyricists, producers and songwriters.

“The man cheated his way to millions of listens, but also violated copyright by speeding up the tracks and releasing them. It’s a mockery to those who struggle to make music every day and earn peanuts.”

Both streaming fraud – fake counts of streams of music on streaming services – and manipulated tracks – tracks that have been sped up, slowed down, or otherwise altered – have become serious problems for the music industry.

Both activities take money out of legitimate artists’ and rightsholders’ pockets, streaming fraud by diverting some of the pool of royalties away from legitimate artists and towards fraudsters, and manipulated tracks by making it difficult to identify the real rightsholder behind a track.

“The man cheated his way to millions of listens, but also violated copyright by speeding up the tracks and releasing them. It’s a mockery to those who struggle to make music every day and earn peanuts.”

Anna Lidell, Autor

A study by the Centre National de Musique (CNM) in France concluded that between 1% and 3% of tracks streamed in the country in 2021 were fraudulent.

Pex, a company that tracks and analyzes copyrighted content on streaming services, estimates that there are at least 1 million tracks on streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music and TIDAL that have been manipulated, and some of those tracks have racked up millions of plays.

However, both the music industry and law enforcement are stepping up efforts to address these issues. In Canada, nine “streaming manipulation sites” were recently taken down, the result of efforts by IFPI, the global association representing the recorded music business, and Music Canada, in conjunction with federal police.

Some streaming services have recently announced changes in policy meant to address streaming fraud.

In a statement last November, Spotify said it is “working in close collaboration with industry partners – artist distributors, independent labels, major labels, label distributors, and artists and their teams – to introduce new policies to… further deter artificial streaming.”

The company said it “invests heavily in detecting, preventing, and removing the royalty impact” of artificial streaming but “bad actors continue to attempt to steal money from the royalty pool that should be delivered to honest, hardworking artists.”

On top of the artificial streaming detection technology that Spotify had earlier rolled out, the company said it would begin charging labels and distributors when “flagrant artificial streaming” is detected on their content.

Earlier this month, streaming service Deezer confirmed it had removed 26 million tracks from its platform, or about 13% of its total catalog, including tracks that were “noise,” “fake artists,” and those that had received no plays over the prior 12 months.

“The intention is to declutter the platform, focus on tracks that are valuable to our users and increase the market share for all artists who create this music,” Deezer CEO Jeronimo Folgueira told MBW.

Deezer deleted those 26 million tracks in the months since it first launched its Universal Music Group-approved artist-centric payment system.

UMG Chairman and CEO Sir Lucian Grainge called for a new streaming payout model in his New Year note to the company’s global workforce at the start of 2023. Over the course of last year, that plan became a reality, with the ‘artist-centric’ model announced by Deezer in September 2023.

 Music Business Worldwide

Related Posts