Home Money One Man’s Army of Streaming Bots Reveals a Whole Industry’s Problem

One Man’s Army of Streaming Bots Reveals a Whole Industry’s Problem

by Elijah
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One Man’s Army of Streaming Bots Reveals a Whole Industry’s Problem

A man in Denmark was sentenced today to 18 months in prison for using fake accounts to trick music streaming services into paying him 2 million Danish crowns ($290,000) in royalties. The unusual case exposes a weakness in the business model behind the world’s largest music platforms.

The 53-year-old consultant, who had pleaded not guilty, was convicted of data fraud and copyright infringement after using bots to listen to his own music through fake profiles on both Spotify and Apple Music, collecting royalties. The data fraud took place between 2013 and 2019.

Fake or ‘artificial’ streams are a major problem for the streaming industry. According to AS, between 1 billion and 3 billion fake streams took place on popular music platforms in 2021 study by the French National Music Center. Fake streams are a problem, according to the music industry, because they divert royalty payments from real artists and pollute the data of streaming platforms.

“This is an example of a problem becoming a problem within the music industry,” said Rasmus Rex Pedersen, an associate professor of communications at Roskilde University in Denmark, who researches music streaming. “The streaming services have had a number of years to develop tools to combat this type of fraud and apparently they haven’t done a very good job.” There are still services advertising the sale of fake streams, he adds.

In February, a court in the Danish city of Aarhus heard how the man, whose name was withheld, was accused of using bots to generate a suspiciously high number of plays on 689 songs, which he had registered as his own music. In one week, 244 songs were listened to 5.5 million times, with 20 accounts responsible for the majority of the streams. The suspect had previously argued that these playbacks were related to his job in the music industry. He plans to appeal, his lawyer Henrik Garlik Jensen told WIRED.

The man created software that played the music automatically, claims Maria Fredenslund, CEO of the Danish Rights Alliance, which protects copyright on the Internet, and first reported it to the police. “So he wasn’t really listening to the music. Nobody really listened to the music.” According to the Danish Rights Alliance, the defendant had 69 accounts with music streaming services, 20 of which were with Spotify alone. Thanks to his network of accounts, he was at one point the 46th highest-earning musician in Denmark.

Although the defendant created much of the music himself, 37 songs were modified versions of Danish folk music, with the tempo and pitch changed, said Fredenslund, who was present at the court.

Starting in 2016, Danish artists noticed altered versions of their songs circulating on streaming platforms. They reported the suspicious activity to Koda, a Danish organization that collects and distributes fees to songwriters and composers when their music is played online. In an investigation, Koda discovered how the amounts paid to the advisor went from zero to substantial amounts in a short time. Koda then reported the matter to the Danish Rights Alliance, which is investigating fraudulent behavior. “It is not only immoral, but downright unfair to manipulate payments that should rightly go to dedicated and hard-working music makers,” said Jakob Hüttel, chief legal officer at Koda.

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