They are “like doping for sports”… How “fake streams” are turning music online upside down

It wasn’t a mystery for long, but it’s official now. In an unpublished report published this week, the National Center for Music (CNM) confirmed it, with supporting figures: “online listening manipulation is a reality”. In France, in 2021, between 1 and 3 billion streams, or 1% to 3% of the total volume of music consumed on the platform, is fake. That is, created artificially. “Scam”, among other manipulations as envisioned by rapper Lorenzo, is sponsored to increase an artist’s fame and the income he generates.

“Spectre”, was widely commented on in recent days in Cannes, where Midem, an illustrious world congress, rose from the ashes. “When everything is thrown into the common pot that we share pro rata, what changes the reality of use is done to the detriment of other rights holders”, recalls in place of National Syndicate of Phonographic Publishing (Snep) Bertrand Burgalat.

Up to 6,499 euros for a million streams

And almost institutionalized fraud. « Stream farm [des ordinateurs en réseau], hacking accounts, the imagination of hackers is rich and developed”, explained CNM, according to which certain professionals “demonstrated that they were approached directly by service providers”. France Inter received an email listing the price of a company promising “100% French” streaming. Prices range from 129 euros per pack of 10,000 to 20,000 flows to 6,499 euros for over a million flows. Enough to move the rating and ensure the spotlight.

A tempting offer, which especially appeals to “private fame rights holders”, according to CNM. “Thus the detected fraud was over 80% on the long tail level, outside the top 10,000”, of which “a very large part” came “from hip-hop / rap”, underlines its director Jean-Philippe Thiellay. But in reality, “everyone, at some point or another, has cheated”, assures Europe 1 Pascal Nègre, former president of Universal, who is now head of the SPPF, which federates independent labels.

An outing that made Bertrand Burgalat jump. “It is unacceptable to say that. Most manufacturers never cheat, he says. Many professionals experience this as a tragedy. It’s like doping in sports. This study is awareness, but now it must lead to a concrete attitude. Moreover, the number must be underestimated because it is only to the extent that it is detected. »

Excluded from charts and possible playlists

Even more so because CNM does not have access to information from all platforms. Amazon Music, Apple Music, and YouTube “cannot or want to share their data”, the organizations noted. “There is a kind of Omerta. On our part, we want to be transparent about it,” explained Deezer’s Ludovic Pouilly, who contributed to the research, as did Qobuz and Spotify.

“We have been working on this issue for more than ten years. We were the first to know how to detect fraud, ”said the vice president of the French platform, also on the sidelines of Midem.

With immediate consequences. “When identified, these fake streams are removed and put aside. They do not participate in charts or financial reporting. Therefore they generate no income. They are also excluded from our recommendation algorithm. We notify our editorial team, who may decide to remove the artist in question from the playlist and not promote it. »

New charter and studies, for nothing better

But it’s hard to go any further. “In most cases, the sponsor at the start of a flow manipulation request will rarely be identifiable and identifiable,” notes CNM.

“Providers of offensive content” are still very much in the loop, says Ludovic Pouilly, also president of the Syndicate of Publishers of Online Music Services (ESML). “When we called them to report the detection, the fraud was verified as it stopped soon after, he explained. The entire industry must play the game and mobilize to limit this phenomenon. »

In conclusion to its report, the National Music Center proposed developing an “interprofessional charter to prevent and combat online listening manipulation”. He will conduct a new study in 2024.

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