The exact moment has been lost to history, but shortly after the first song was uploaded to the internet, the first mislabeled song was uploaded to the internet. The tradition carries on today, and in recent years entire fake albums have been released under the names of some of music’s biggest stars.
In March, an album called Angel by “Fenty Fantasia” was leaked, supposedly containing new songs by Rihanna. Last year, albums by “Queen Carter” and “Sister Solana” claimed to be new music by Beyoncé and SZA, respectively. Usually comprised of bootlegs, demos, and outtakes, these fake albums have occasionally rocketed up the streaming charts. They are eventually taken down, but not before generating revenue. This leads to a question: Where are the streaming royalties going?
Not to the artists, it turns out. In a new report at Pitchfork, writer Noah Yoo details how leakers and fakes are capturing that revenue, which can reach into the tens of thousands of dollars. By using independent distribution companies like DistroKid and TuneCore, fakers can claim they own the rights to any music, upload the songs, and cash out on PayPal. So much music is uploaded daily that there’s little to no oversight. One hacker who leaked tracks by Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert claims to have made over $60,000 in streaming royalties.
Representatives from Spotify, DistroKid, and TuneCore have sworn that the companies are hard at work to stop these unauthorized uploads, but the vetting process appears to be far from fool-proof. And that could be on purpose.
For smaller independent distributors especially, having an efficient vetting system in place may not be beneficial in the long run. Improving security measures would require them to spend more money upfront, and it may lead to a decrease in their own revenue later if multiple uploads are flagged for being fraudulent.
Music labels might have more of an incentive, but oftentimes the tracks being released are demos or outtakes; songs that the labels were unlikely to monetize anyway.
In other words, all other parties seem to be reaping the benefits while the artists are getting screwed. Both Apple and Spotify are trying to combat such rampant fake uploads with a copyright infringement form on their respective websites, but it’s hard to gauge how much the document has deterred potential leakers.