Fake Beyonce albums online expose problem

The Beyonce album releases turned out to be a hoax and were apparently uploaded to Apple and Spotify through Soundrop, a do-it-yourself distribution service.
The Beyonce album releases turned out to be a hoax and were apparently uploaded to Apple and Spotify through Soundrop, a do-it-yourself distribution service.PHOTO: BEYONCE/INSTAGRAM

The releases, which appeared on Apple and Spotify, show these services are unable to vet the huge number of recordings that are uploaded every day

NEW YORK • At first the news seemed to follow a familiar, exhilarating pattern.

Two weeks ago, two new albums with material by Beyonce - credited to the name Queen Carter - appeared on Spotify and Apple Music.

Social media exploded, assuming that Beyonce, the master of the surprise album release, had repeated her magic trick yet again.

But the story quickly unravelled. Fans noticed that the albums were made up primarily of old tracks and demo recordings and the albums were taken down.

The Beyonce album releases, it turned out, were a hoax, apparently uploaded to Apple and Spotify through Soundrop, a do-it-yourself distribution service that caters to young, independent musicians.

Unauthorised recordings online are nothing new, of course, but are usually found on YouTube or on file-sharing networks.

Yet the fact that two albums by one of the biggest stars in the world were available on Spotify and Apple - two giant online outlets long seen by the music industry as bulwarks against piracy - is largely unheard-of. It did follow the release last month of demo recordings by R&B singer SZA, which, the head of her label said on Twitter, had been "stolen and leaked".

For Spotify, in particular, which has made moves to allow independent artists to upload music directly to its platform - bypassing the usual controls of a label or distribution company - the Beyonce and SZA leaks point to a possible risk for the company in maintaining its always-fraught relations with the big music conglomerates.

"This is a classic dilemma that all of these services are facing," said Mr Panos A. Panay, vice-president for innovation and strategy at the Berklee College of Music.

"As you open up your platform, how do you ensure the accuracy and legitimacy of the content you are putting up there?"

Representatives for Spotify, Apple and Beyonce declined to comment.

Services like Spotify, Apple Music and Tidal get most of the music they stream from a handful of distributors, many owned by the major record labels.

But in recent years, a vibrant independent sector has developed that lets anyone upload his music and have it legitimately distributed to all the major online services, usually for a small fee.

Those services generally require users to state that they have the necessary rights to post songs. But with millions of songs moving through the ecosystem, errors and misrepresentations are not easily detected.

The two Queen Carter albums, Have Your Way and Back Up, Rewind; and the SZA songs, for example, were both apparently uploaded through Soundrop.

A spokesman for Soundrop said that uploading those albums was a violation of its terms of service and that the company took the releases down as soon as it learned that they had not been released legitimately.

Soundrop is cooperating with the streaming services in investigating the leaks "and will comply with the authorities with any follow-up information inquiries needed to press charges for this potential intellectual property theft", said spokesman Dmitri Vietze.

The source of the leak was still unclear. Separate Soundrop accounts were used to upload the Beyonce and SZA tracks, but the company believed that the two were related and may have been the same person, according to Mr Vietze.

But the mere fact that known songs by a superstar like Beyonce could have been placed on Spotify and Apple Music without permission - even if they had been attributed to a phony name - exposes the problems that these services have in vetting the huge number of recordings that are uploaded every day, said associate professor of music business Larry Miller at New York University's Steinhardt School.

"If the details around how these platforms upload music are so automated and check-and-balance-free when it comes to artists of this stature," he said, "then certainly leaks like this should give any platform pause to reconsider how uploading works."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2019, with the headline 'Fake Beyonce albums online expose problem'. Print Edition | Subscribe