Kanye West's latest drama involves the courtroom—specifically, a putative class action complaint alleging false advertising, unfair competition, and unjust enrichment.
In February, West tweeted that his new album The Life of Pablo "will never never never be on Apple. And it will never be for sale… You can only get it on Tidal." The tweet went viral and was picked up by news outlets and reported worldwide. West, a shareholder in the streaming music service, initially made good on his promise, and released the album exclusively on Tidal.
But just a few weeks later, West delivered an about-face, offering his album on his own website and a host of other services, including Apple, Pandora, and Spotify.
In response, California resident Justin Baker-Rhett filed a putative class action complaint against West and S. Carter Enterprises. Baker-Rhett claimed that he signed up for Tidal (at a cost of $9.99 per month after a free trial period) for the sole purpose of gaining access to The Life of Pablo.
The timing of West's purported exclusive Tidal release saved the streaming music service, which was "quietly teetering on the brink of collapse" in early 2016, Baker-Rhett alleged. The service similarly promoted West's album as an exclusive by tweeting, "We're bringing @KanyeWest's #TLOP to fans around the globe. It's streaming exclusively on TIDAL.com." The album was streamed 250 million times in the first 10 days of its release and the service's subscribers tripled, from 1 million to 3 million users, bumping the mobile app to the top of the download charts.
"In reality, neither Mr. West nor S. Carter Enterprises ever intended The Life of Pablo to run exclusively on the Tidal platform," Baker-Rhett claimed. "To the contrary, they—knowing that Tidal was in trouble but not wanting to invest their own money to save the company—chose to fraudulently induce millions of American consumers into paying for Tidal's rescue."
According to the plaintiff, Tidal and West not only gained new subscribers, they also benefited because subscribers provided personally identifiable information in order to sign up for the service. As a result, the defendants obtained valuable data, including e-mail addresses, social media accounts, and credit card information.
Baker-Rhett estimated that the promised exclusivity was worth as much as $84 million to Tidal. "Defendants reaped enormous benefits from the mass influx of new subscribers and the treasure trove of consumer data they collected from them," according to the complaint.
The suit seeks damages, disgorgement of profits, and restitution, as well as an order that requires Tidal to delete the private information of all class members (consisting of millions of individuals, Baker-Rhett said) and to cancel the negative-option subscriptions created during the class period.
To read the complaint in Baker-Rhett v. S. Carter Enterprises, click here.
Why it matters: "We fully support the right of artists to express themselves freely and creatively, however, creative freedom is not a license to mislead the public," Baker-Rhett's attorney said in a statement about the complaint. Advertisers should ensure that in their excitement for a new launch or effort to boost a sagging bottom line they don't overstate their offerings.