Kanye West pushes back against fan suit on exclusive album deal

Kanye West accepts the Video Vanguard Award at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles.
Kanye West accepts the Video Vanguard Award at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards in Los Angeles.PHOTO: REUTERS

New York (AFP) - Kanye West is fighting back against a lawsuit by a fan who says the rapper duped listeners into subscribing to the Tidal music service to hear his last album.

The lawsuit - filed as a class-action suit, which other disgruntled fans could join and win damages - is one of the first to test the legal responsibilities of artists and streaming services as the online music format becomes increasingly commonplace.

The fan said West falsely claimed that his The Life Of Pablo would remain an exclusive on the service led by rap mogul Jay-Z, leading him and others to pay for access.

West tweeted at the time that his album would "never never never be on Apple. And it will never be for sale.... You can only get it on Tidal".

He urged his millions of social media followers to sign up for Tidal when he released the album in February 2016, even saying the subscriptions would help him repair his troubled finances.

But by April, he had released The Life Of Pablo on other streaming platforms including leader Spotify.

In a motion to dismiss the lawsuit filed this week, a lawyer for West said the rapper had incorporated a number of new lyrics and beats by April.

"In other words, the original version of The Life Of Pablo, which debuted on Tidal in February 2016, was always exclusive to it. The versions of The Life Of Pablo that are available on other streaming services are different from the original, Tidal-only version," the motion said.

But the lawyer relied heavily on the technical argument that both West and the upset fan live in California - not in New York, where the suit was filed in a federal court.

The fan, Mr Justin Baker-Rhett, charged that Tidal made a "windfall" on the album, pointing to the company's early struggles to break into the streaming market after Jay-Z, with help from West and other artists, rebranded it in 2015.

Mr Baker-Rhett said he paid to join Tidal despite already having a Spotify account.

"Consumers were uniformly tricked into handing over their private data and credit card information by a singular mistruth," the lawsuit said.

West and Jay-Z, his former mentor, appeared to fall out soon after the album's release. West publicly urged Apple to buy Tidal and, amid concerns about his mental health, ranted at a concert that Jay-Z could kill him.

Jay-Z hit back in a song on his new album 4:44 - itself a Tidal exclusive for its first week - suggesting he had paid US$20 million to West.