Apple Threatens Legal Action Against Digital Music News for Frank Ocean Coverage

Tough Threats from Apple Surrounding Frank Ocean

Apple launched a disastrous Frank Ocean ‘exclusive’.  Now, they’re taking it out on Digital Music News with legal threats.

Apple has now threatened legal action against Digital Music News for reporting on multiple leaks of Frank Ocean’s latest album, ‘Blonde’.  ‘Blonde,’ alternatively spelled ‘Blond,’ is one of two Ocean albums released in rapid succession last week, with both quickly leaked across dozens of different file-hosting, file-sharing, torrent, and streaming platforms within 24 hours.


That includes high-profile and embarrassing leaks on both Google Drive and SoundCloud, both of whom offered one or both of Frank Ocean’s albums for free, for multiple days after the release.  Digital Music News reported on both of these breaches, specifically involving ‘Blond,’ and Apple quickly retaliated by alleging that Digital Music News was facilitating copyright piracy by drawing attention to the leaks.

The articles were more specifically focused on the issues associated with streaming exclusives, including calamitous leaks that can result.  But the article also raised difficult questions over why both Google and SoundCloud were getting away with offering the illegal copies over a multi-day period, and openly flouting Apple’s exclusive in the process.

In a demand letter sent by Apple agent Douglas Kassem of anti-infringement group GrayZone, Inc., two articles discussing ‘Blonde’ leaks on Google Drive and SoundCloud were cited as containing ‘UNAUTHORIZED MATERIAL IN CONNECTION WITH FRANK OCEAN,’ with a demand to delete both articles or suffer unspecific damages or legal action.

Apparently, the first attempt to reach us was unsuccessful, but that could be due to the use of ‘ALL CAPS’ in the title, which can quickly relegate messages to spam folders.  The first warning may have also been sent to a nonexistent email box at Digital Music News, based on the addresses listed on the second note received (which included a combination of unknown and real addresses).

We’re unaware of any phone calls or mailed correspondence from either GrayZone or Apple.

Sloppily, the GrayZone email that eventually reached us was titled, ‘URGENT – [SECOND] NOTICE OF INFRINGEMENT AND DECLARATION: APPLE MUSIC | Frank Ocean [],’ but didn’t even specify why the articles themselves were deemed to be infringing.  Guessing, we offered to immediately remove the links to the folders and SoundCloud pages, even though Google and SoundCloud were hosting the material, but flatly refused to remove the articles.

Both articles are still live.

We then contacted Apple media representative Tom Neumyr concerning the threats, but did not hear back from either Apple proper or GrayZone.  Amazingly, Google Drive only removed the folder containing the album days after we received this threat, while SoundCloud still has multiple copies of the album available to users.  All of which raises the question: why was Apple threatening Digital Music News, when the actual companies hosting the album — Google and SoundCloud — had yet to comply (and still haven’t complied)?

That may be answered by who actually owns the rights to ‘Blonde’: Frank Ocean.  Indeed, without a demand from the actual rights owner, in this case the artist (who released the album freshly out of his UMG contract), Google, SoundCloud, or anyone else doesn’t have to honor a DMCA takedown notice.  Why Google ultimately removed the offending, publicly-available folder on Drive is anyone’s guess, though the delay offers yet another aspect to a disastrous Apple Music launch.

Tellingly, in the legal demand to Digital Music News, Apple claims to be the IP owner, which doesn’t quite sound right.  Sounds like a classic case of overreach, though that rarely holds back lawyers when it comes to C&Ds and threatening letters.  Here’s the suspicious excerpt (full letter below):


I, the undersigned, do solemnly and sincerely declare and CERTIFY UNDER

1. I am the owner or an agent authorized to act on behalf of the owner of
certain intellectual property rights, said owner being named APPLE (“IP

2. I have a good faith belief that the materials identified above are not
authorized by the above IP Owner, its agent, or the law and therefore
infringe the IP Owner’s rights.

Perhaps this is all an attempt by Apple to take matters into its own hands.  It now appears that Universal Music Group and Frank Ocean purposely refrained from curbing infringement of their own albums, even though Apple Music was rumored to have paid millions for exclusive rights to release both.  But without the cooperation of rights owners, Apple’s efforts were completely diluted, while both UMG and Ocean gained heavy upside by exposing the album to the widest audience possible.

Days later, UMG chief Lucian Grainge declared an end to all digital exclusives, according to information leaked by Bob Lefsetz, a major slap against Apple’s streaming strategy.

The following is the complete letter sent to Digital Music News.

16 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    I think it’s certainly appropriate and newsworthy to report that the leaks happened. However, providing actual links to the content is a bad idea, and that’s likely why Apple sent the notice.

    There’s certainly an argument that can be made as to whether or not providing instructions on how to pirate certain content (which is essentially what a link is) instead of providing the content itself should be considered infringement or free speech. But it’s probably better that you let Google try to make that argument.

    • Anonymous

      “I think it’s certainly appropriate and newsworthy to report that the leaks happened. However, providing actual links to the content is a bad idea, and that’s likely why Apple sent the notice. “

      Completely agree.

      • Paul Resnikoff
        Paul Resnikoff

        I see that perspective, but, the articles are about the leaks and the issues that those leaks present, not some torrent link farm. It’s a really interesting legal question, because it would be the same as a New York Times article about a heroine spot with specifics (all housed in a legitimate office building!)

        • Anonymous

          “it would be the same as a New York Times article about a heroine spot with specifics (all housed in a legitimate office building!)”

          Naming the office owner is good journalism — telling junkies where to go is not.

        • Anonymous

          I think this is essentially what SOPA boiled down to. It’s definitely a good topic for discussion.

        • Someone Who Actually Understands

          [i]”I see that perspective, but, the articles are about the leaks and the issues that those leaks present, not some torrent link farm.”[/i]

          Um,… you DO realize that this is the EXACT SAME argument that Google has for not (completely) filtering search results for users who use whatever terms they may.


          Google doesn’t editorialize (much…) the results it renders from searches, because a) they aren’t driving users to “torrent link farms” and b) filtering search results is a form of prior restraint of free expression.

          What’s good for the goose?

          Also, heroin is a drug, a [i]heroine[/i] is a female hero.

  2. Billy D

    ,i.”I see that perspective, but, the articles are about the leaks and the issues that those leaks present, not some torrent link farm.”

    LOL You’re now whipping up Apple’s takedown request into some sort of unwarranted evil First Amendment jihad against DMN. Clearly Apple’s main intent here was to have DMN remove/obfuscate the direct links to infringing content. Mission accomplished. +1 Apple

    Posting the links was negligent, irresponsible, unnecessary & reckless. DMN…you were wise to abide.

  3. Versus

    It was irresponsible of DMN to direct people to the specific piracy sites, and even post direct links.
    Apple is in the right here.

  4. Anon

    Paul is an a**hole and an idiot. Posting direct links to piracy sites, and saying that all you’re doing is reporting the news. Of course they’re going to come after you.

  5. Anonymous

    OK, I think he got the memo now. 🙂

    And you could actually say his freaky reaction to a boilerplate takedown is sort of charming.

    Compare to Pirate Bay and Google who brag about the millions of notes they get.

    Paul f*cked up — but he actually believes in law and order.

    Imagine if you could say that about Google.

    • Anonymous

      …also, you can’t help smiling when he actually posts stuff like this:

      “This email message, and any attachments thereto, is for the sole use of the intended recipients and may contain legally privileged and/or confidential information. Any unauthorized review, use, disclosure or distribution is strictly prohibited

      Especially, when that stuff comes from something called ‘GrayZone, Inc.’ 🙂

  6. Nicky Knight's thoughts

    The report highlighted the rampant disregard over copyright by blatantly having the album up for free on those sites/platforms.

    Apple, artists, producers, songwriters and anyone else who owns the copyright in
    music sound recordings should protect their creative assets otherwise the public will snatch it all up for free and you’re left with a begging bowl on Sunset Blvd.

  7. Musicservices4less

    Remember promo copies? That worked great back in the day because you could actually limit the number of “free” copies available. Not so in with the internet. All it basically does is devalue not only the specific songs involved but in general gives the impression to the consumer that the mass appeal artists can be gotten for free so what does that say about less appealing artists?
    Very bad promotional/marketing maneuver for established artists.

  8. Anonymous

    The other premise, that the roll out was “disasterous” and “embarrassing” is also amusing, considering Blonde will be the #1 album in the country this week. Many labels would pay dearly for that kind of “disaster”.


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