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Understanding streaming fraud and why you should never buy fake streams

Learn what practices are considered streaming fraud and why you should never buy streams, clicks or followers for your music on the streaming platforms.

Published on
January 26, 2024
Ariane Petschow
Marketing Lead

MusicHub: Music distribution, promotion and rights management - all in one platform!

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Have you ever thought of buying Spotify streams, clicks or followers, or asking your friends and fans to play your music on repeat? If so, erase this thought from your head. All those practices constitute streaming fraud and are thus illegal.

In this article, we’re unraveling the nuances of illicit streaming tactics and explaining which behaviour is regarded as illegal and unauthorised manipulation of streaming figures (so-called streaming fraud or streaming manipulation).

To make it clear from the start: As MusicHub is a platform and community that values and promotes fairness, we do not tolerate any fraudulent or manipulative behaviour.

What is considered as streaming fraud?

Streaming fraud or manipulation encompasses activities that artificially boost streaming numbers, creating what is known as fake streams. This can be achieved through various means, including hacked accounts, fake profiles, the use of bots and buying streams.

Be aware that even tactics such as playing your own music over and over on several devices to trick the system and generate a considerable amount of streams for yourself, are a fraudulent activity. Asking others to do the same is also considered as manipulating streams.

Why is artificially inflating streams harmful to others?

The prevalent "pro-rata" payout model adopted by major streaming services such as Spotify entails pooling revenue from premium account subscriptions (as well as ad-revenue on free accounts) and distributing it among all streams generated during a specific period. Those resorting to fake streams not only undermine the integrity of the system but also adversely affect artists adhering to the rules - thereby indirectly stealing from them. Additionally, streaming fraudsters risk jeopardising their revenue streams permanently as platform operators can initiate the suspension or deletion of implicated accounts.

Estimates indicate that around 10% of streaming activity is fraudulent and $2 billion per year are misallocated and unjustly diverted from legitimate artists due to fake streams (source: Bloomberg - as of May 2023). Recognising the severity of the issue, streaming services are actively combating these fraudulent practices. They closely monitor data related to generated streams, including weekly stream totals, track duration, listening times, and user geolocations. Suspicious activities are diligently tracked, and anyone who is buying fake clicks or engaging in any unlawful manipulation of streams is acting illegally. They may face consequences such as profile deletion or a ban on further music releases. Streaming services are increasingly resorting to legal action against fraud associated with fake streams. Especially if earnings have been garnered through deceptive practices, including some advertising activities and the purchase of fake clicks, streaming fraud is not a minor offence, but a criminal act, potentially resulting in legal repercussions in a court of law.

Please note that there is a difference between hiring an agency or company to help you contact playlist curators or promote your music on social media, and thereby increase your streaming numbers (this is legal), and hiring a company to directly buy you streams on Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, and other streaming platforms (this is illegal). If you want to learn more on how to promote your music in a fair and legal way, check our our blog articles on DIY music promotion, Classic online promotion and Promotion agencies.

After all, fake streams neither help you build a real fanbase in the long run nor earning money with your music consistently. Your growth is artificial and not sustainable if you inflate your streams. Generating fake streams, for instance by intrusively asking for clicks, can even scare real fans away and negatively affect the algorithm. Consequently this can mean that no-one really listens to your music in the first place. So risking losing real fans, being banned from the streaming and download platforms, and facing legal consequences is definitely not worth it.

What’s the industry’s stance on buying streams and practicing streaming fraud?

In Germany, the German Music Industry Association (BMVI) has taken decisive steps against various websites involved in streaming manipulation, pledging continued efforts against streaming fraud thereby supporting those who generate streams in an honest way. Dr. Florian Drücke, Chairman of the Board and CEO of BMVI, emphasises the importance of trust in digital offerings for both fans and the industry. Recent legal decisions underscore the industry's commitment to combat anti-competitive practices (source: musikindustrie.de). In Germany, record companies have achieved a victory against a streaming manipulation site. They successfully sued the operators of the site who are now now “legally prohibited from offering manipulation services in the future” (musicbusinessworldwide.com). This shows the seriousness of music industry companies and associations to persistently take action and ban fraudulent streaming acitivities. Frances Moore (IFPI) demands: “This is an issue that the whole music industry must continue to take action to prevent.”

What’s MusicHub’s standpoint and what do we do to avoid streaming fraud?

At MusicHub, we echo a strong stance against streaming manipulation. Our priority is the success of our members, and we urge all members to act responsibly, fairly, and honestly, ensuring that no one is adversely affected. We do everything in our power and employ serious measures, such as closely monitoring irregular behaviour, to prevent fraudulent activities on our platform and impose appropriate consequences on dishonest members. We advocate for honesty and fairness in the best interest of all our members.

To detect and counteract streaming fraud, MusicHub utilises a specialised tool to automatically analyse audio and video content. This tool checks the legality of music published through MusicHub. Speaking of music files being fraudulent in itself: One addition to the list of fraudulent activities is the upload of several tracks or even full albums that are not longer than one minute per track. With this trick fraudster often try to outsmart the system, as Spotify, for instance, only counts streams over 30 seconds. Again, we cannot tolerate such behaviour on our MusicHub platform, and also Spotify and other platforms are taking actions against this, potentially resulting for musicians in being banned and or even sued. Spotify, for instances, uses artificial streaming detection technology, and now also wants to hold labels and distributors accountable and charge them “per track when flagrant artificial streaming is detected on their content”(artists.spotify.com). Therefore, MusicHub is even more obliged to counteract streaming fraud.

How can you protect yourself against streaming fraud?

To ensure that your activities around your music release do not constitute streaming fraud, carefully assess whether they artificially inflate streaming numbers. It's crucial to note one more time that streaming fraud includes actions where fans are encouraged to manipulate the system as well.

Streaming fraud may also occur inadvertently and unknowingly, with artists falling victim to dubious marketing companies that use bots to manipulate streaming numbers. We strongly advise our members to carefully scrutinise offers from such companies to determine their legality and avoid potential negative consequences. If an offer appears dodgy at first sight, it mostly is. Two things that should definitely ring your alarm bells are: promises/guarantees of a certain amount of streams that you can buy, and even more so, promises of enormous numbers of streams such as 100,000 streams. To learn more on how to find the right, legit playlist promoters, check out this article.

Navigating the digital landscape can be challenging, but we at MusicHub are committed to helping you make informed decisions for success on streaming platforms. Eventually, organic and sustainable growth and the support and love of real fans always wins.

Thank you for choosing honesty and fairness.

Dive deeper into MusicHub’s resources for DIY musicians

Get more useful knowledge and insights on distribution, promotion, rights & royalties, music production and more on our MusicHub blog. We regularly post artist and expert interviews as well as inspiring articles with lots of tips and advice, also in short on Instagram or TikTok.

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Photo credit blog cover: ©pexels/tima-miroshnichenko

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