|THURSDAY 11 JUNE 2020||COMPLETEMUSICUPDATE.COM|
|TODAY'S TOP STORY: Tidal is officially suspected of gross data fraud by Norwegian authorities. This is according to recently released court papers relating to efforts by the Jay-Z owned streaming firm to stop those authorities from seizing confidential documents... [READ MORE]|
Tidal officially a suspect in gross data fraud case, new court papers show
Fans of streaming controversies will remember that, in May 2018, Norwegian business newspaper Dagens Næringsliv ran a report accusing Tidal of skewing official data relating to streams of Kanye West's 'Life Of Pablo' and Beyonce's 'Lemonade', both albums over which the streaming firm enjoyed exclusives. Because of the way streaming royalties are calculated each month, if the play counts for those records were artificially increased, not only would those artists and their labels get more money than they were due, everyone else's payments for that time period would also go down.
DN was particularly interested in the operations of Tidal because the service began life as the Nordic digital music service WiMP. The newspaper said that it first investigated the alleged dodgy data relating to the West and Beyonce albums after people pointed out that the official number of plays for both records were particularly high given the size of Tidal's userbase.
Some Tidal users also reported that their accounts seemed to show that they'd been playing the records even though they hadn't. The newspaper then got its hands on some internal data from Tidal which it had some academics scrutinise. They concluded that said data had been tampered with.
For its part, Tidal has always denied any wrongdoing. But Norwegian collecting society Tono [filed a complaint with police](Some Tidal users also reported that their accounts seemed to show that they'd been playing the records even though they hadn't. It then got its hands on some internal data from Tidal which it had some academics scrutinise. They concluded the data had been tampered with.) over the alleged data tampering. Then, in January last year, Norway's economic crime agency, aka Okokrim, confirmed that it was investigating the allegations made against the Tidal company.
Since then there has been plenty of back and forth between Tidal and Okokrim regarding confidential documents that the latter says it needs to review. Tidal has been trying to prevent the crime agency from seeing said documents through the Norwegian courts.
After a district court and appeals court both said there were sufficient grounds for forcing Tidal to hand over those documents, the streaming service took the matter to the appeals committee of the country's Supreme Court.
According to a new report from DN earlier this week, that Supreme Court committee has now also ruled that Okokrim is entitled to seize the documents. Court papers related to that decision also reveal that Tidal has been classified as a suspect in Okokrim's investigation since last June.
When the agency first confirmed it was investigating the claims against Tidal, the streaming firm stressed that - despite that investigation - it wasn't officially suspected of committing any crime.
Clearly that changed last summer when Okokrim decided that Tidal was officially suspected of gross data fraud. Though whether that classification was instigated based on new evidence or simply so that the regulator could proceed with its legal action to secure those documents isn't clear.
Tidal is yet to respond to these latest developments.
Eventbrite sued over COVID-19 refunds policy
The entire live industry, of course, has been dealing with an unprecedented number of cancelled and postponed shows as a result of the COVID-19 shutdown.
Whether ticket-holders can automatically claim a cash refund for those shows will depend on each promoter's terms and conditions and what local consumer rights laws say. Policies are also often different for cancelled shows and postponed shows - which can pose interesting questions when a festival is basically cancelled, but organisers insist it has in fact been postponed by twelve months.
In the US - where consumer rights law is less clear cut on these matters and often differs from state to state - festivals Ultra and South By Southwest have both been been sued over their refund policies, as have Live Nation's ticketing company Ticketmaster and secondary ticketing site StubHub. The latter is also facing legal action in Canada.
Eventbrite is being sued by Sherri Snow, Anthony Piceno and Linda Conner, who each bought tickets via the ticketing firm's website for different events. All three of those events were then postponed as a result of COVID-19 - two have been postponed to specific new dates later in the year, while one is yet to have a new date confirmed. All three want to cancel their tickets and get a cash refund.
In their lawsuit, which seeks class action status, they describe how Eventbrite allows event organisers to set their own refund policies on its platform, including a no refunds policy. Although, Eventbrite terms stress, "refund policies must be in accordance with all applicable local, state, provincial, national and other laws, rules and regulations".
And "refund policies (including 'no refund' policies) must provide for a refund or other make good for failure to provide the advertised goods and services (eg event cancellation)".
Critiquing Eventbrite's rules, the lawsuit takes particular issue with the get-out that event organisers can provide an "other make good" if an event is cancelled, rather than a cash refund.
"Eventbrite's requirement that an organiser 'make good' for a failure to provide the goods and services is meaningless nonsense, which frustrates the entire policy", the lawsuit states, also noting that even that vague obligation doesn't apply to postponed events.
All three of the plaintiffs live in California, and two of the shows they booked tickets to were in that state as well. Which is why, for them, what California law says about refunds is of relevance.
"Section 22507 of California's Business And Professions Code, which applies to all Eventbrite ticket purchases", they write, "requires that the 'ticket price of any event which is canceled, postponed, or rescheduled shall be fully refunded to the purchaser by the ticket seller upon request'".
This requirement, they go on, means Eventbrite's 'make good' requirement on cancelled shows "has unlawful limitations". Restating that point later in the legal filing, they add: "Even when adhered to, Eventbrite's minimum refund requirements do not comply with California law, including the lack of a mandatory refund for events that are canceled, rescheduled, or postponed".
Of course, assuming Californian law does require a cash refund when events are cancelled, there is then the question as to whether the obligation to provide that refund applies to Eventbrite as well as the event's promoter, especially if Eventbrite has already handed over the ticket sale money to the promoter before cancellation or postponement occurs.
Since the COVID-19 shutdown has begun - and in the context of the various controversies around refunds - many ticketing companies have been keen to stress that they are simply transactional platforms and that refunds are therefore the responsibility of their real clients, ie promoters or sellers.
To what extent that is true is debatable, and in some countries consumer rights law explicitly states that everyone in the value chain is responsible for ensuring refunds are issued. Though, to be fair, Eventbrite more than most ticketing firms is very much a transactional platform available to any event organiser, and therefore it operates in a slightly different way to more traditional ticket agents.
And while Eventbrite's more bespoke requirements of event organisers may not comply with Californian law, those requirements come with that proviso that each organiser's refund policy "must be in accordance with all applicable local, state, provincial, national and other laws, rules and regulations".
It remains to be seen how the ticketing firm responds to the litigation. Confirming that it was being sued on this issue in a filing with America's Securities & Exchange Commission, the company simply said that it intends to "vigorously" fight the lawsuit.
The legal battle is one of a number of challenges facing Eventbrite as it, like all of its competitors, continues to navigate the COVID-19 shutdown and deal with the insecurity of not really knowing when the live sector will return to something nearing normal.
Having announced significant cutbacks in April to help it weather the storm, the company has now announced a plan to raise $115 million in debt finance through the issuing of convertible senior notes. That resulted in another dip in the company's share price this week, although it is still above it's lowest ebb to date that occurred just before those cost-saving measures were announced.
US prosecutors confirm no progress in Kickass Torrents extradition proceedings
Artem Vaulin was arrested in Poland in July 2016 at the request of the US authorities, shortly before the Kickass file-sharing site was forced offline. Prosecutors in the US want to extradite him so that he can face charges of criminal copyright infringement in the American courts. A Polish court approved Vaulin's extradition the following March, but then a lengthy appeals process began, which is still ongoing.
This means that, while the Vaulin case initially seemed to be progressing in a pretty speedy fashion, it could end up being as long-drawn-out as the whole MegaUpload debacle. US authorities have been trying to extradite MegaUpload chief Kim Dotcom from New Zealand to face similar charges of criminal copyright infringement in the American courts ever since 2012, so far without success.
Efforts by Vaulin's lawyers to have the case against their client dismissed entirely in the US courts failed, but they did ultimately secure the Kickass man bail so that he doesn't have to spend his time in jail as he goes through the slow process of fighting extradition.
It was in the US courts that we got an update - or a non-update - on the proceedings. Spotted by Torrentfreak, a recent legal filing from American prosecutors reads: "Defendant is still undergoing extradition proceedings in Poland, and the parties are not currently aware of a timetable for a resolution of those proceedings. Accordingly, no discovery has been produced, and the parties do not currently need a court date to be set within the next 60 days".
The filing concludes: "If that changes, the parties will contact the court". If it does and they do, rest assured, we'll be back to you with an update.
One Little Indian changes name due to "harmful stereotyping and exploitation of indigenous peoples' culture"
In a statement, the label's founder Derek Birkett said: "I have immediately started making arrangements to stop using the One Little Indian Records name and logo, with our digital properties in the process of this change right now. From today the label will be called One Little Independent Records".
"The last few weeks have been a monumental learning curve", he went on, explaining why he was making the change now after 35 years in business.
"Following the receipt of an eye-opening letter from a Crass fan that detailed precisely why the logo and label name are offensive, as well as the violent history of the terminology, I felt equally appalled and grateful to them for making me understand what must be changed".
Birkett's association with the offending term actually goes back beyond the launch of the record label in 1985 . He was also the bassist of anarcho-punk band Flux Of Pink Indians, who formed in 1980 and originally released music through the label that had been set up by the there mentioned Crass. Last year, OLI began distributing the Crass back catalogue, which is presumably what prompted the fan letter.
"As a teenager living in London in the late 1970s, my friends and I were deeply inspired when we learned about some of the philosophies of the indigenous people of the Americas, of peace and love for each other and for nature and the planet, and in turn they were of huge influence in our anarchist punk movement", he explains. "I was naive enough at the time of founding my label to think that the name and logo was reflective of my respect and appreciation of the culture".
However, he goes on: "I'm aware that my white privilege has sheltered me and fostered my ignorance on these issues. I realise now that the label name and logo instead perpetuated a harmful stereotyping and exploitation of indigenous peoples' culture. This is the exact opposite of what was intended. However, I know that it is not the intentions but the impact that is important".
Concluding, Birkett says that he now wants to "apologise unreservedly to anyone that has been offended by the name and the logo" and that he recognises "that both contribute to racism and should have been addressed a long, long time ago". He added that he has made, and will continue to make, donations to organisations including the Honouring Indigenous Peoples Charitable Corporation and The Association On American Indian Affairs.
The indie label's name change follows a number of recent shifts in the music industry that have occurred in response to the most recent Black Lives Matter protests in the US and beyond. Among other things, all three majors have committed funds towards addressing racism and prejudice within their companies and the world at large.
Meanwhile - with regard to the appropriateness, or not, of certain words - the debate over the suitability of the label 'urban' for some of the genres that began with and which are generally still dominated by black artists has increased in intensity. Partly after Universal's Republic Records in the US announced it was dumping the term.
Margo Price reschedules album release for July
"Take me back to the day I started trying to paint my masterpiece so I could warn myself of what was ahead", she says, speaking about the experience of the last three months. "Time has rearranged, it has slowed down, it has manipulated things like it always does".
"The words to some of these songs have changed meaning, they now carry heavier weight", she goes on. "I've seen the streets set ablaze, the sky set on fire. I've been manic, heartbroken for the world, heartbroken for the country, heartbroken from being heartbroken again and again".
"This album is a postcard of a landscape of a moment in time", she concludes. "It's not political but maybe it will provide an escape or relief to someone who needs it. Sending love to everyone out there and hope I see you down the highway".
'That's How Rumors Get Started' will now be released on 10 Jul through Loma Vista. Here's the video for new single 'Letting Me Down'.
George The Poet's podcast wins Peabody Award
The first podcast made outside the US to win a Peabody, the judging panel said: "George Mpanga's 'Have You Heard George's Podcast?' is a remarkable and arresting creative engagement with European colonialism and the Black Atlantic consciousness its afterlife produced".
"Through the portals of poetry, spoken word, music and speculative fiction", it went on, "Mpanga, or George The Poet, imagines new horizons of possibility and pushes the boundaries of language and wordplay to explore issues of trauma, intimacy, work, art and creativity, belonging, attachment, and meaning in Black Atlantic worlds".
George The Poet adds: "To win a Peabody feels like being honoured by storytelling royalty. Our podcast was inspired by greats from different fields who have also been honoured here; it's a milestone in my career that I never dreamed of reaching so soon. On behalf of my community, I'm grateful for this recognition of our truth".
As the Peabody panel noted, the podcast uses a mixture of artforms, with theatre, documentary and sound design also in there. Those artforms are used to tell stories about black British life, making it particularly relevant to this moment in time. Not only that, it is also a simply amazing programme, finding amazingly innovative and compelling ways to tell stories that are frequently astounding.
The first two series of the podcast are available from BBC Sounds (in its own app and anywhere else you might go searching for podcasts). A third is set to follow later this year.
LABELS & PUBLISHERS
Strictly Confidential has announced a new worldwide publishing agreement with Ghostpoet. It has also entered into a new partnership with Ugandan label Nyege Nyege Tapes and its Hakuna Kulala imprint.
Universal Music Greater China has named Nan Jin its new Head Of Communications. She joins from 20th Century Fox Film, where she was Marketing Director for China. "The opportunity to join the global communications team at UMG is a huge privilege", she says. And why not?
Gilles Peterson's talent development scheme Future Bubblers has announced the nine artists selected for its fifth year and the mentors who will work with them. They are Ama//Mizu (mentored by Pete On The Corner), Madi Saskia (mentored by Eddie Smith), Griz-O (mentored by Jack Clark), Mark Cake (mentored by Will LV), Tony Spark (mentored by Tom Deffee), NeOne (mentored by Dan Horitz), Damos Room (mentored by Kay Wrate), Shakira Alleyne (mentored by Emily Kendrick) and Ella Knight (mentored by Eva Greene). Find out more here.
Fontaines DC have released new single 'I Don't Belong'. The song is taken from their new album, 'A Hero's Death', which is out on 31 Jun through Partisan.
Tiggs Da Author has released new single 'We Ain't Scared'. "I like the idea of a beat doing one thing and you're saying the complete opposite", he says of the track. "For me, what's important is making songs with a message that gets through, whether immediately or eventually. This song is literally me explaining me moving from Tanzania, then growing up in south London with no father figure. You have to learn from your mistakes and teach yourself how to be a man".
Shamir is back with new single 'On My Own'. "I wrote 'On My Own' last summer after a breakup as a way to remind myself that while it sucked to lose someone I was getting used to, at least I'm an introvert", he tells Rolling Stone. "But considering the pandemic, it's also morphed into an accidental quarantine anthem, especially for the people who live alone like me".
Naeem (formerly known as Spank Rock) has released new single 'Stone Harbor'. His debut album under the new name, 'Startisha', is set for release tomorrow.
Paint - aka Allah-Las' Pedrum Siadatian - has released new single 'Land Man'. His second album, 'Spiritual Vegas', will be released through Mexican Summer on 10 Jul.
Nicolas Bougaïeff has released new track 'Nexus', taken from his upcoming new album 'The Upward Spiral', which is out on 24 Jul.
Fifi Rong has released new single 'Love Yourself First'. "This song acts as a reminder to the indestructible truth we all know deep down, but often neglect in these uncertain times of the world", she says.
Maggot Heart have released new single 'Justine'. Their new album, 'Mercy Machine', is set for release on 10 Jul through frontwoman Linnéa Olsson's Rapid Eye label.
GIGS & FESTIVALS
The Roskilde festival has announced plans to bring together its community of fans online, encouraging them to set up their living rooms like a festival in order to raise money for the event's charitable foundation. More info here.
Check out our weekly Spotify playlist of new music featured in the CMU Daily - updated every Friday.
Grammys update award names and nomination rules in a bid to address racism and corruption accusations
The headline grabbing change within the announcement is the dropping of the 'urban' word in two categories (although it's been added to another), the changes coming as the wider debate over the appropriateness of that genre term intensifies within the industry.
That debate has also put the spotlight back on comments made by Tyler, The Creator earlier this year after winning a Grammy himself. He criticised award events for too often automatically nominating black artists for awards labelled urban - or badged with a sub-genre under the urban banner - without really considering what music those artists have actually made. He'd just won the Best Rap Album prize for a record that was more pop.
Among the changes announced by the Academy yesterday were the rebranding of the Best Urban Contemporary Album category to Best Progressive R&B Album. Best Rap/Sung Performance is becoming Best Melodic Rap Performance. Best Latin Rock, Urban Or Alternative Album becomes Best Latin Rock Or Alternative Album. But Best Latin Pop Album becomes Best Latin Pop Or Urban Album.
Grammy organisers say that changes to the Latin category names - in particular shifting the urban word from one category to another - aim to "migrate the genres of Latin urban and represent the current state and prominent representation in the Latin urban genres".
Whether these rejigs result in any real change remains to be seen. While the dropping of the urban tag for the R&B category has been generally welcomed, a simple name change does not really deal with the issues raised by Tyler, The Creator. Nor the other common accusation that many award events are prone to hand black artists genre specific prizes even when they've made records which many reckon should get the higher profile non-genre specific gongs, particularly Album Of The Year.
Meanwhile, the newly rebranded 'best melodic rap' category has already received criticism for sounding a bit like 'best attempt at pop'. And it seems certain that that would have been the category that Tyler, The Creator's 'Igor' album would have been put into this year had it existed. So his comment, saying "it sucks that whenever we ... do anything that's genre-bending or anything, they put it in a rap or urban category", would still stand, despite this shift.
Explaining the decision to update the category names, and especially the decision to move away, somewhat, from the urban word, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr tells Variety: "It's something we've been discussing for a couple of years ... [that] term has been a hot button for a while".
"A lot of creators and people in that genre [urban] didn't like that description and felt it pigeonholed certain styles of music", he goes on, "so when our constituents brought that to us in the form of a proposal, we listened and voted to approve, as asked by the people in that community. Progressive R&B gives us a chance to lean more into the modern R&B and hybrid-style recordings and give us a little bit of flexibility in that category".
Elsewhere, conflict of interest rules have been tightened ahead of next year's event. That's a reaction to an issue that the Recording Academy has previously insisted wasn't an issue.
During the acrimonious departure of former Grammys boss Deborah Dugan in January this year, one of her many, many accusations was that the awards were rigged to an extent. She claimed that the nominating committees that made the final decisions on award shortlists were shrouded in secrecy, due to being corrupt.
Said committees, she alleged, routinely ignored the votes of the 12,000+ academy members in order to give prizes to their own clients and associates. In some cases, she claimed, artists were able to sit on the committees for awards that they were themselves eligible - on at least one occasion resulting in such an artist being bumped up from eighteenth in the ranking based on member votes to one of the five artists nominated for Song Of The Year.
The Recording Academy dismissed all of these accusations at the time, but has now nonetheless implemented new conflict of interest rules for its nominating committees. Members of these committees will now be required to declare whether they have any ties to artists being considered - financial, familial or otherwise. Failure to do so would result in being barred from taking part in future events and, if it is discovered in time, being removed from the group they are participating in that year.
Previously, the rule was that if you had a conflict of interest relating to any particular artist (or you were that artist) you were required to leave the room while the specific category they were up for was being discussed. Mason Jr says that the changes in this domain just makes the rules "a little more robust and clear in terms of the requirements" rather than them being a massive overhaul.
In another change to existing rules, there is also now no cap on the number of releases an artist can put out while still being eligible for the Best New Artist category. That's a category that has been through a number of changes already in recent years, as Grammy organisers try to decide what constitutes a 'new' or 'breakthrough' act in the age of streaming and DIY releases.
Changes to the rules are all well and good, but some have wondered - what with this whole public health crisis and the continued uncertainties around when large-scale events will be able to return - will the Grammys even take place next year? Mason Jr insists that they will and on their planned January date as well.
"At this point, we are absolutely planning on having the show on 31 Jan 2021", he tells Variety. "We are simultaneously developing three plans for what the show would look like: One is the traditional show the with the full crowd, two is a limited crowd, and three is no crowd, and there's creative around all three of those ideas; how and where we would film it. But none of them involve changing or postponing the date".
So, it seems that we will get to see all of these rule changes in action, with or without an audience to applaud the winners and to debate what will almost certainly still be the controversies around selections, shortlists and category definitions.
Reviewing the rules is a good thing of course. Although the best way to overcome the controversies would be to finally recognise that pitting artists and genres against each other is inherently stupid, that awards like the Grammys are really just a big marketing platform and cheeky junket for the more corporate end of the music industry, and the world would probably be a better place if we just called them all off forever.
But if COVID-19 can't achieve that, I guess us moaning about it at the bottom of the CMU Daily isn't likely to achieve much either.