Bootlegs and fake uploads are a problem that has plagued digital music from its onset.
But according to a new report, the problem is now seriously affecting streaming platforms, with impostors posting music from famous artists under false names. Some of these operators are now making huge sums of money.
According to a just-published exposé in Pitchfork, these impostors are using legitimate distribution services such as Tunecore to make this happen. Of course, a platform like Tunecore allows independent music artists to distribute their songs on streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music, though that opens the potential for wrongdoing.
While both the distribution services and the streaming platforms forbid the uploading of material owned by someone else, this hasn’t stopped the impostors from posting unreleased songs from top artists under bogus names and song titles.
“Artists face the possibility of impersonators uploading fake music to their official profiles, stolen music being uploaded under false monikers, and of course, simple human error resulting in botched uploads,” Pitchfork’s Noah Yoo writes. “Meanwhile, keen fans have figured out where they can find illegally uploaded, purposefully mistitled songs in user playlists.”
One unnamed impersonator cited in the report says that this past year Tunecore and DistroKid together paid nearly $60,000 for royalties on songs owned by others. The songs were streamed on both Apple Music and Spotify.
These songs belonged to artists such as Lil Uzi Vert and Playboi Carti. While the songs were eventually removed from the platforms, that did not stop the impostor from receiving significant payments, sometimes as much as $10,000 at a time.
Exactly where these songs are coming from is another matter. These could easily be inside jobs, or outside jobs perpetrated by hackers or others.
In response, a spokesperson for Spotify said that they take intellectual property rights seriously, and do not tolerate the distribution of unauthorized songs. But Spotify also added that while some people may get past the protections that they have in place, the platform is continually updating and improving these protections.
In other words, this is a problem — and potentially one that’s growing faster than the industry realizes.
Jonathan Gardner, chief communications officer at TuneCore, said that, while they cannot comment on specific cases of infringement, the company proactively responds to any infringements and are committed to preventing such behavior.
“In addition to subjecting all uploaded material to a detailed content review process before it is delivered to any digital music service, it is also TuneCore’s policy to respond expeditiously to remove or disable access to any material which is claimed to infringe copyrighted material and which was posted online using the TuneCore service,” Gardner stated.
“While we cannot comment on any specific claims, we can say that TuneCore is committed to preventing our services from being used in connection with infringing or otherwise deceptive behavior.”
Philip Kaplan, CEO and co-founder of DistroKid, also would not comment specifically about the case but indicated that the company had recently introduced new technology to prevent the type of infringement cited in the report.
Apple declined to comment on the reports.