Music Piracy Row Escalates Between Label and Magazine

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A London-based music label and a German music magazine are having an escalating high-profile row over two leaked albums. Ninja Tunes have publicly accused Backspin magazine of leaking promos sent to them earlier this month, accusations the magazine aggressively denies. So who leaked what and when? TorrentFreak takes a look.

Leaks of albums on the Internet are hardly a new phenomenon but while most labels suppress their anger, London-based Ninja Tune have taken the opposite approach by naming and shaming the people they believe are responsible.

Ninja Tune, the label founded by DJs Matt Black and Jonathan More (better known as Coldcut), say that after sending watermarked promo CDs to Germany-based Backspin magazine earlier this month, two albums leaked online.

The Ninja Tunes logo


“It was with considerable disappointment that we learnt in the last week that two records we have been working on have been leaked, despite the use of watermarked CDs,” the label said this week.

“Toddla T’s Watch Me Dance (Ninja Tune) and another upcoming release were both leaked from copies sent to the journalist Benjamin Jager at the offices of Backspin magazine in Germany.”

While Ninja have refrained from naming the second title, TorrentFreak has learned that it is Thundercat’s The Golden Age Of Apocalypse.

Ninja reacted to the leaks by rushing out Toddla T’s album alongside claims that it may not be possible “to make any kind of financial return from commercial release.” Backspin, they add, won’t be getting any more promos “until the situation is resolved.”

That point could be some way off – Backspin are far from happy.

“Since its founding days BACKSPIN Magazine has been renowned for its professional and trustworthy relationship with artists, labels and partners. Therefore, we distance ourselves from allegations made against the magazine and its staff,” the accused Benjamin Jager announced.

Backspin say they are reserving the right to take legal measures to mitigate what they describe as damage to their reputation, but the row hasn’t ended there. Both Ninja Tune and Backspin are arguing over the timelines of when the magazine received the promos and when they appeared on the Internet.

“The first leaks appeared on the net days before we received the CDs in the mail,” Backspin insist. “Further leaks appeared one week after the incident was reported.”

According to Ninja the promos were sent from their German publicist on July 1st and the magazine acknowledged receipt “several days ago” which even by conservative measurement is a period of at least two weeks.

“The first audio leak of the Toddla T album occurred on the 5th July, the second album [Thundercat’s The Golden Age Of Apocalypse] leaked on 14th July,” claim Ninja Tune.

Using Scene databases, TorrentFreak discovered that both albums were released by Scene release group hbZ, known online as homeboyZ.

The Scene group behind the Ninja leaks


However, while Thundercat’s album was indeed leaked on 14th July (at 01:32) it appears that Toddla T’s wasn’t leaked by hbZ until 6th July (at 13:14), a day later than claimed by Ninja.

But according to Ninja Tune, Backspin believe the leaks go back even further.

“Backspin also claim that there was a prior leak of both albums but the link they refer to is a fake, and leads only to a series of online data collection adverts and surveys,” say Ninja, refuting the claim.

So could there be any truth in Backspin’s claim? Quite frankly, it’s extremely difficult to tell. While so-called Scene releases, such as these from homeboyZ, are very well documented, leaks from other sources are much more difficult to pinpoint, unless one is looking for them ‘live’.

However, there is an interesting element to many of homeboyZ’s releases. The vast majority of them are ‘nuked’, which in layman’s terms means that the piracy scene found something wrong with them and disallowed the release. For every ‘nuke’ a reason is given, and for homeboyZ a recurring theme runs through many of their releases, including the two from Ninja.

It might have been ‘nuked’ but the music plays just fine….


“No.proof.provided” or similar phasing means that a group has made a release without showing, even in rough terms, where the source material came from. In the case of music, scene rules for MP3s 19.1 and 19.2 state the following:

19. Scans/Photos
1. All releases from physical sources must always include proof.

2. Proof means a good quality scan or photo of the physical medium together with the cover or a booklet page so the proof can be identified as the release in question. If the medium or cover/booklet contain anything that may expose your identity, then that part of the image can be blurred or blackened. Additional scans may be added but these DO NOT count as sufficient proof!

Of course, promos tend not to have the full artwork. Ninja refers to the CDs going out with “paper PR sheets accompanying them inside the cardboard sleeves”.

But there are other reasons for not having proof of source, reasons that could add credibility to Backspin’s claims.

Scene groups often stand accused of “stealing” releases from “lesser” groups on P2P networks, private BitTorrent trackers for example. Scene groups sometimes try to hide that they got the material from a public file-sharing source but then they suffer the “No.proof.provided” nuke, just as homeboyZ have.

So, for Backspin’s claims of earlier leaks to have credibility, homeboyZ must have “stolen” the releases from non-Scene sources. That said, TorrentFreak has looked for releases of both albums which pre-date the Scene releases and we can’t find them. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t exist – the Internet is a very big place.

While Ninja appear to be certain that Backspin are responsible for the leak, making accusations like these in public are very rare, and very risky.

A Scene source told TorrentFreak that they have many ways of gaining access to promo material, including paying off delivery drivers to take copies of CDs and even persuading office cleaners to do the same.

In this instance the presence of a watermark is a bit like a residential IP address. You know where you sent the CD, and you know which household an IP is assigned to. But what happened behind those doors to create the infringement is anyone’s guess. Wifi hacked? CD quietly copied?

Perhaps we’ll never know. Ninja Tunes, it seems, don’t really care.


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