Analysis: Is Spotify hosting bootlegs?

We love Spotify. Hardly a day goes by that we don't use it, and we really want to see it grow and be successful, but there's a potentially serious problem looming over the service.

Despite the fact that it's been heralded as the savior of the music industry, Spotify could actually be harboring something worse than pirates: counterfeiters. Never mind what you think about pirating, everyone pretty much agrees that taking something that you did no work on whatsoever and making money off of it is pretty slimy (no, we're not talking about you, record company). And you can't even make the whole 'that sale wouldn't have happened anyway' argument here, since the real alternative is still free and just as easily available.

We really don't think this is something that Spotify wants to happen, but somewhere along the line someone isn't paying enough attention to what they accept into Spotify's rapidly expanding catalog. Surprisingly, though, this really hasn't gotten much attention - our best research efforts only turned up a few posts from blogs we'd never heard of. It's kind of ironic that the record companies are spending so much time fruitlessly trying to squash piracy when worse things are happening right under their noses.

Now, the examples we're gonna give are a little bit skewered towards a certain person's musical tastes, but we've done enough research to see that this is a pretty widespread problem on Spotify. Maybe not with the latest pop sensation, but anyone with a deep catalog that's got proven durability, or maybe just the catalog's the record labels spend less time policing (Bob Dylan seems to be the exception to this rule).

Let's take some classic bluesmen - John Lee Hooker and Howlin' Wolf - for an example. Not only are there more fake recordings (from such fine labels as Dance Plant #1 and Discos Cada - the latter has a particularly talented cover artist, as you can see below) than official, but the counterfeits are actually more popular, probably due to the sheer amount of fakes.

The worst case that we've seen, though, is with Johnny Cash. Not only are there a ton of fake compilations, but new ones seem to pop up every few days, with ever crappier cover art. Some of them actually manage to look professional. We're not sure why Cash is targeted so much, but the problem isn't just confined to these artists.

We could turn this whole article into a list of nefarious ersatz, but we think you get the point by now. If you don't believe me, go run a few searches on Spotify and come see me in the morning. We reached out to them for comment well over a week ago and still haven't gotten a response.

And just to be clear, we're not writing this to attack Spotify - we love Spotify. A lot. It's the soundtrack to our work and play, and we think it's a brilliant idea, and we want nothing more than to see it succeed. But if they're going to do that, they'll have to overcome problems like this. Hopefully they can handle it in a quiet manner and be on their way to focus on more important stuff, but until then it's kind of reflecting badly on the company, and putting them at risk. We're also kind of tired of feeling guilty when we accidentally play one of these fakes.

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21 Comments

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This is the dumbest article ever.

What the hell is a counterfeit song? Robert Plant is singing whole lotta love or he isn't and a true zep fan would know.

Boeing 787 said,
This is the dumbest article ever.

What the hell is a counterfeit song? Robert Plant is singing whole lotta love or he isn't and a true zep fan would know.

I use the term 'counterfeit recording' when referring to any record that's released by someone other than the artist or record label - like if I go rip the original Whole Lotta Love an start streaming it to make cash.

FWIW I think Spotify, like so many other services [e.g. YouTube] fears the so-called slippery slope -- if you do this then sooner or later you'll be expected, likely required to do that. If they start checking for, eliminating counterfeits, how long before someone(s) takes them to court, saying with just a little extra effort they could look for & eliminate something else. By policing, removing counterfeits they'd be admitting/accepting responsibility -- perhaps that could also be taken to mean they're legally responsible in other areas too?

Not saying the counterfeits are good/bad, should/shouldn't be taken care of -- just pointing out that all it takes is a willing lawyer to file suit, there's little penalty if the suit you filed is unsuccessful, & the outcome in U.S. courts for this sort of thing is very often unpredictable.

I doubt it. Near 100% of all content on piracy-oriented sites is copyright infringement, but judging from years of Spotify usage, this has to be about less than 1%. Unlike in piracy, Spotify is moderated too, so if anyone's caught with it, it'll disappear from their catalogue soon enough.

So even if this happens, doesn't mean it's the norm. I really don't think this is a serious problem that record companies are taking much into consideration.

To be worse than piracy, you'd really have to launch an utterly disastrous music broadcasting service, and the effect of that would be no music on it other than promotional material.

IF this becomes a major issue to the record companies attempting to distribute the legit music, I'm sure Spotify will take it seriously and work on more efficient ways of keeping their service clean. They, after all, risk losing the record company and thus their revenue.

Edited by Northgrove, Jun 4 2012, 9:23am :

Northgrove said,

IF this becomes a major issue to the record companies attempting to distribute the legit music, I'm sure Spotify will take it seriously and work on more efficient ways of keeping their service clean. They, after all, risk losing the record company and thus their revenue.

The idea was more that it was 'worse' in that it's a serious commercial endeavor, rather than just sharing. It wasn't really anything to do with the scale or amount of damage being done.

Pirate sites are also commercial enveavors. It's not like they're doing it out of the kindness of their hearts. They make a boatload of money from ads on their sites. I don't have any numbers but I'm pretty sure the revenue from counterfeit music on Spotify pales in comparison to the money from ad revenue of the pirate bay.

All I know is that I am now buying much less music since I have Spotify. When I really liked an album I torrented I used to buy it. Since Spotify I haven't bought anything anymore.

Ambroos said,
All I know is that I am now buying much less music since I have Spotify. When I really liked an album I torrented I used to buy it. Since Spotify I haven't bought anything anymore.

The difference compared to before is now you either pay via ads or actual money. Free Spotify is a bit like ad-sponsored radio, except giving you choice.

counterfeiters..

I think Chinese dont sing good hence music industry kept this factor off their block..

P.S. -> No hard feelings for china or their citizen, just counterfeiters and china seems to be so much interconnected

Choto Cheeta said,
counterfeiters..

I think Chinese dont sing good hence music industry kept this factor off their block..

P.S. -> No hard feelings for china or their citizen, just counterfeiters and china seems to be so much interconnected

This is a generalized statement if there was ever one.....

Eddo89 said,

This is a generalized statement if there was ever one.....

I agree it is a generalized statement, but you must agree, China is known for having a lot of counterfeiters.

De.Bug said,

I agree it is a generalized statement, but you must agree, China is known for having a lot of counterfeiters.

Yeah, but to say they counterfeit because of bad singers is wrong on so many levels.

Shikaka said,
Im pretty sure China is the counterfeit masters

There were reports that even US defense could not stop Chinese counterfeits to flood the spare parts section of USAF / US Navy and their defense electronic hardware..

Left alone the Chinese copy of all major PC or consumer products..

Even Russia is not willing to sale arms to China since they copied everything, from Su-27 fighter to AK47 guns..

Only relief for Music industry, since it requires talent and creativity, counterfeit music is not something to worry about..

De.Bug said,

I agree it is a generalized statement, but you must agree, China is known for having a lot of counterfeiters.


Well China is also known for being the manufacturing capital of the world. It's very likely that they will copy to avoid licensing fees and sell they're goods in more countries. Hey Google is doing that successfully with it's Android OS!

Choto Cheeta said '
Only relief for Music industry, since it requires talent and creativity, counterfeit music is not something to worry about..

Not sure about the talent part...

THolman said,

Not sure about the talent part...

In general, if you have the talent to copy some legend via your music skills, then why copy ??? You can be a legend your self !!

Choto Cheeta said,

In general, if you have the talent to copy some legend via your music skills, then why copy ??? You can be a legend your self !!

I was more taking a dig at modern pop

PoohGQ said,

Well China is also known for being the manufacturing capital of the world. It's very likely that they will copy to avoid licensing fees and sell they're goods in more countries. Hey Google is doing that successfully with it's Android OS!

They pirate and copy because they can. Goes as far as entire cities:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-18327751