‘Phantom Artists’ Are Ripping Off Indie Acts’ IP With Unauthorized Streaming Uploads, Report Finds

music streaming fraud
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Music streaming fraud is reportedly hitting indie acts’ IP in the form of unauthorized uploads attributed to ‘phantom artists.’ Photo Credit: Jefferson Santos

As unauthorized AI soundalike tracks continue to dominate headlines, a new report is exploring how bad actors are allegedly utilizing major distribution services and “phantom” artist profiles to rip off the IP of indie professionals.

The seldom-discussed topic just recently entered the media spotlight in a New York Times piece. Centering on a D.C.-based act called Bad Dog, the account across north of 2,000 words explains that the “folkie duo” recorded and uploaded to SoundCloud an album entitled The Jukebox of Regret.

Not long after becoming available on the Berlin-based platform, the project in question, to the surprise of its creators, popped up on Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, and elsewhere – albeit with fresh song titles and different artist names for each track, according to the report.

A producer on The Jukebox of Regret is said to have identified the wholly unapproved copies when one of the songs, upon being included in an Instagram post, was automatically tagged with a new title and another artist name.

Predictably, this and different names (Kyro Schellen and Vinay Jonge among them) appeared to have no other releases, or, to be sure, any online presence whatsoever. But the parties behind the alleged illicit operation had further commandeered the metadata associated with The Jukebox of Regret – a point uncovered when Bad Dog was attempting to have CDs pressed, per the text.

Despite the duo’s members being attorneys, the battle to regain control of the album took some time, as described by the piece. Takedown notices, backed by the project’s original upload date on SoundCloud, elicited “fairly” prompt responses and actions from Amazon Music and then YouTube, the text indicates.

And a request-processing email from Apple Music included the name of the company that had uploaded or been used to upload the copies: Warner Music Group, according to the Times. Subsequent discussions between the paper and the Big Three label suggested that those responsible had utilized Warner Music-owned indie distributor Level to “release” The Jukebox of Regret.

It’s unclear whether Warner Music and Level will, owing to major-label-approved compensation changes, have to pay a streaming-fraud fine to Spotify, where The Jukebox of Regret phantom-artist tracks are said to have racked up a cumulative 60,000 or so plays before being pulled. In any event, Level, citing internal policies, has reportedly opted against publicly disclosing who lifted the album without permission.

Regarding the broader scope of the little-mentioned subject – that is, the evolving nature of streaming royalties theft – Beatdapp has estimated that fraudsters make off with a whopping $2 billion, of $17 billion total, per year.

On this front, worth noting in conclusion is that the unauthorized Jukebox of Regret uploads blew past the per-track minimum of 1,000 annual streams works must hit on Spotify before they begin accruing recording royalties. And it was only last year that a separate report, this time from Sweden, provided a look at how criminal enterprises allegedly launder money via streaming platforms.