Many people were understandably confused when Kanye West’s latest album The Life of Pablo hit streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music on April 1, given that West had previously sworn that the album would remain a Tidal exclusive. California resident Justin Baker-Rhett, however, has taken that grievance further, launching a lawsuit against West, Jay Z, and Tidal for what he claims to be false advertising.
According to court documents obtained by EW, Baker-Rhett filed a class-action complaint against West and Jay Z’s S Carter Enterprises for saying The Life of Pablo would always be a Tidal exclusive in order to inflate their subscriber base. As Baker-Rhett notes, user data and subscriber numbers are some of the most important factors in a start-up’s prospects; Jay Z himself is currently suing the previous owners of Tidal for inflating subscriber numbers when they originally sold it to him. In addition, there’s the fact that the publicity tour for The Life of Pablo found West publicly claiming the making of the album had put him into debt, at one point even pegging the exact number at $53 million. Baker-Rhett uses these facts, as well as industry murmurs about Tidal’s financial troubles, as background for his claim that West and Jay Z misled consumers about Tidal’s exclusivity in order to drive up their subscriber base and enrich themselves (since both musicians have an ownership stake in the streaming service).
The Life of Pablo did start as a Tidal exclusive, but it eventually went wide to competitive streaming services like Apple and Spotify. That window of exclusivity, however, did help Tidal. The service reported in March that The Life of Pablo had helped get them up to 3 million subscribers. Some of those were undoubtedly free trials of the service, but the plaintiff complains that even then consumers were made to provide payment information to Tidal.
“Once a consumer completes the sign up process and starts using the service, Tidal begins collecting a massive amount of analytics data, user habits, and browsing history,” the lawsuit reads. “By increasing their user base multiple times over, Tidal is able to create valuable usage information to aid them in better monetizing their site as well sharing with or selling that information to third parties (such as record labels, artists on its platform, and other media companies). As a result of their misrepresentations, each Defendant, as a stakeholder of Tidal, benefitted from having their shares of Tidal increase in value.”
The lawsuit, filed to the U.S. District Court of northern California, requests certification as a class-action (potentially including anyone in California who bought a Tidal subscription during its month-and-a-half exclusive access to The Life of Pablo), that the plaintiffs be awarded both actual and punitive damages, and that Tidal be forced to delete all personal user data acquired during that time period.
The moral, as always: it’s good to take West’s tweets with a grain of salt. His debt tweets were disputed by as close a source as mother-in-law Kris Jenner, and his much-publicized brouhaha with Wiz Khalifa was subsequently deleted after West realized it began on a misunderstanding. Now, however, he may have to answer for his tweets in court.