Spotify Countersues Indie Label, Alleging Massive Streaming Fraud & Millions of Fake Accounts

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Sosa Entertainment founder Jake Noch claimed the streaming service failed to pay royalties on over 550 million plays. Now Spotify says he designed a "scheme" to game the system.

In November 2019, indie hip-hop label Sosa Entertainment and its founder, 20-year-old Jake Noch, filed a lawsuit against Spotify that alleged the streaming service failed to pay royalties on over 550 million streams of its music. The suit, which was also brought on behalf of Noch’s PRO Pro Music Rights (which was later removed), sought $150,000 in statutory damages for each infringement, and alleged that Spotify removed its music not because it detected "abnormal streaming activity," as the service claimed, but because it was trying to dodge paying royalties on the streams.

Now, Spotify has fired back with a countersuit alleging that Noch "designed a scheme to artificially generate hundreds of millions of fraudulent streams" in order to "manipulate Spotify’s system to extract undeserved royalties at the expense of hardworking artists and songwriters." The filing, which is supported by screenshots of messages allegedly between Noch and a "bot farmer" and charts that show streams on Noch’s music go from zero into the hundreds of thousands in a matter of days, also alleges that Noch directed the bot farmer to create millions of fake accounts and changed the names of songs in his catalog to closely resemble those of established hit songs, like XXXTentacion’s "SAD!" and DJ Snake’s "Taki Taki."

Noch, who lists himself as the chief executive of Sosa and Pro Music Rights, as well as a handful of additional music companies, has quite the proud litigious history, having released several press releases touting lawsuits against Spotify, Apple, Google, YouTube, Amazon, SoundCloud, Pandora, Deezer, iHeartRadio and more. Pro Music Rights claims a database of some 2 million tracks, including more than 23,000 by various artists using some form of the name "LEGATO," like LEGATO_DIMY, LEGATODE45, LEGATODI001, LEGATOGILL2002 and LEGATOKAL999, to name a few.

According to Spotify’s counterclaim, filed Monday (May 18), the service first detected artificial streaming activity on Noch’s content in March 2016 and eventually banned his music from the service, before extending that ban to all content related to Noch. Noch then tried to "smuggle" the content back onto the service using slightly different names and created millions of fake accounts to stream that music.

In June 2016, a whistleblower contacted Spotify with screenshots that purported to show Noch directing the person to create millions (direct quote: "i need millions") of fake accounts. And while Spotify had identified the fraud a few months prior, the company had already paid a small amount of royalties to Sosa and Noch -- royalties that otherwise would have gone to legitimate songwriters with songs being streamed by legitimate fans. According to the complaint, for one of Noch’s albums that jumped from zero streams to more than 400,000 in just days, 99% of its streams came from Spotify’s ad-supported free tier and from accounts registered to male users in the United States, a pattern that was also found for other works.

Noch then changed distributors and changed the names of some of his companies in order to dodge Spotify’s fraud detection systems, with slightly different artist names, song titles and cover artwork. In one section of the complaint, attorneys wrote that "analysts at Spotify found that 5,500 'users' streaming one of the Sosa albums 'originated' from a small American town with a total population of 10,000. For that album, the stream count jumped from zero to 749,000 streams in a span of only two days... This pattern is highly anomalous and not at all correlated to any possible pattern of genuine streaming activity."

In another example from the complaint, in what the filing calls "title track parasitism," Noch and Sosa uploaded tracks called "SAD!" with the same punctuation as the XXXTentacion hit, and "Taki Take," shortly after the similarly-named DJ Snake song reached the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100. Some of the tracks that Noch and Sosa would release on Spotify were AI-generated sound loops.

In all, Spotify’s counterclaim seeks relief for fraud, fraudulent concealment, breach of contract, indemnification, unjust enrichment and deceptive business practices. As another line in the complaint reads, "This was one of the most egregious fraudulent streaming operations from a single rights holder that Spotify had to deal with in its company’s history."

After the publication of this story, Noch provided a comment to Billboard which reads, in part, “Spotify’s claims are laughable… I also greatly look forward to the day we get to go to court, and I hope that all of Spotify’s shareholders will pay close attention to these cases… Time will prove that we are right.”

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