A new investigative report by the Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv is alleging that Tidal falsely inflated the streaming numbers of Kanye West's The Life of Pablo and Beyoncé's Lemonade by over 300 million total plays.
In 2015, Beyoncé and husband Jay-Z, plus other artists took a controlling interest in Tidal. His wife Beyonce and his former protege West both launched their albums exclusively on the streaming platform in 2016.
The resulting record company royalty payments, reports on which DN claims to have gained access to, reveal that Tidal paid Sony $2.5 million for Lemonade across April and May of 2016, and Universal around $2.4 million for The Life of Pablo in February and March of that same year. This could put the service in a tricky situation, as it has promised to pay rights holders more money than its other streaming rivals including Spotify, Apple Music, and Deezer.
After the newspaper partnered with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's Center for Cyber and Information Security, they determined that 150 million plays of West's record and 170 million plays of Beyonce's record were "duplicates" and did not represent real listening activity by subscribers.
Those numbers were already somewhat suspicious-Tidal reported just 3 million users in January 2017, and those numbers have been repeatedly challenged-but Norway's Dagens Næringsliv nowclaims a staggering number of those streams were "false plays".
The paper claims that tracks were restarted every six minutes at the exact same time, down to the second and even millisecond. They spoke to Washington D.C. law student, Tiare Faatea, who had supposedly listened to Beyoncé's Lemonade 180 times in 24 hours. They both denied doing so to the paper. This is something Tidal vigorously denies and says the DN report is part of a "smear campaign".
"This is a smear campaign from a publication that once referred to our employee as an "Israeli Intelligence officer" and our owner as a 'crack dealer, '" the service said in a statement to Variety, referencing a previous Dagens Næringsliv article. Or how Beyonce's "Lemonade" got 306 million plays in 15 days or nearly 7 daily plays per Tidal user.
And those streaming totals resulted in massive royalty payments to the labels responsible for the releases: €4 million ($4.7 million U.S.) to Sony in April and May 2016, of which Lemonade accounted for around $3 million US, and €3.2 million ($3.8 million U.S.) to Universal in February and March 2016, of which The Life of Pablo accounted for roughly $2.4 million U.S.