More than 1M modified audio tracks are on DSPs and are diverting revenue away from rightsholders

WRITTEN BY Larry Mills
Nov 1, 2023

At Pex, we have spent years building the best content and music identification technology so rightsholders can be attributed and compensated correctly. This market-leading technology powers our user-generated content (UGC) tracking solution, Discovery, and our content management system, Attribution Engine. One thing our technology has taught us is there will always be creators who use other people’s music without permission. Well intentioned or not, these creators often get paid for works that they don’t own or license, especially when it comes to cover songs, sped up tracks, and other modified audios.


The state of modified audio on DSPs

We specialize in UGC data, and recently analyzed over 20 platforms where we found hundreds of thousands of modified audio tracks, the majority of which we can assume are unlicensed. But UGC sites like YouTube and SoundCloud aren’t the only places creators can distribute their music, so we decided to expand our analysis to include streaming DSPs, like Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, and Tidal. The outcome is much the same as UGC platforms: modified audio is rampant across all DSPs. If the creators of these modified songs haven’t licensed the original tracks, but are earning royalties from DSP streams, this is music fraud that could be taking millions from the rightful copyright owners.

We’ve been shocked to see how much modified audio exists on DSPs and isn’t credited to the original rightsholders. If these platforms use ACR technology similar to Pex’s to prevent this exact thing from happening, why is so much uncredited modified audio making it onto DSPs?


Streams over attribution

While building our newest ACR product, Pex Search, which allows you to plug into our technology directly, we tested our capabilities against legacy ACR providers. These solutions offer options where they only check portions of a file for music and they don’t match well against pitch and speed changes. They also, in some cases, search against a smaller catalog of music. Unless you have a nearly identical, unmodified song in the first part of a file, it may not get matched by these ACR providers. What this means in practice is that hundreds of thousands of potentially unlicensed uses are making it past distributors, onto UGC platforms and DSPs.

With all the talk lately about stopping music fraud, we have to ask:

Why aren’t full files checked for music each time?

Why are sped up songs all the rage on TikTok and Spotify, but platforms don’t use technology that is good enough to identify speed and pitch changes?

Why are cover versions of songs not better identified, as if compositions aren’t copyrighted and songwriters don’t need to be paid?

And most importantly, is this all being overlooked on purpose?


At least 1% of all songs on DSPs are modified audio

After extrapolating our UGC data as well as publicly available information on streams, we have the data to show that alarming amounts of modified music is slipping through the cracks. From our analysis, we estimate at least 1% of all songs on DSPs are modified audio. We’re talking more than 1M unlicensed, manipulated songs that are diverting revenue away from rightsholders this very minute.These can generate millions in cumulative revenue for the uploaders instead of the correct rightsholders. Spotify estimates that low popularity tracks currently absorbing just 0.5% of its royalties pool are cumulatively generating $40 million in revenue per year.

Starting now, we plan to publish new data each Wednesday to show how much uncredited modified audio content is making it onto DSPs. Sign up for our weekly newsletter here and check out past editions below.

Here’s five examples of modified songs that we easily identified, and that should have been checked for licenses before making it onto streaming platforms:

“Without Me” – Original recording by Halsey

  • Manipulated audio: “Without Me (Sped Up Version)” – modified version by Fly By Nightcore
  • 5,949,502 streams on Spotify as of 10/25/23
  • Currently live on: Spotify, Deezer, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Tidal

Without Me (Sped Up Version) on Spotify


“Substance” – Original recording by Greedo

Substance (Sped up) (Remix) by DJ Frontero


“Something Just Like This” – Original recording by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay

  • Manipulated audio: “Something Just Like This” – modified version by Fly By Nightcore
  • 12,412,976 streams on Spotify as of 10/25/23
  • Currently live on: Spotify, Deezer, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Tidal

Something Just Like This Nightcore version on Amazon Music


“Back to Black – Original recording by Amy Winehouse

  • Manipulated audio: “Back to Black (sped up nightcore) (Remix)” – by Xanemusic & Kevoxx
  • 1,127,432 streams on Spotify as of 10/31/23
  • Currently live on: SpotifyApple Music, Amazon Music, Tidal

Back to black nightcore remix by xanemusic


“Tere Te” – Original recording by AP Dhillon and Gurinder Gill

  • Manipulated audio: “Tere Te – Slowed & Reverb” – modified version by Kaushal Shekhawat
  • 2,203,385 streams on Spotify as of 10/25/23
  • Currently live on: Spotify, Deezer, Amazon Music, Apple Music

Tere Te - Slowed and Reverb on Apple Music


Stop fraud with Pex Search

Pex can identify what other ACR providers can’t or won’t. We’ve trained our technology on user-generated content and modified audio in order to find the most monetization opportunities for rightsholders. We want to see our vision of attribution for all come to fruition, but we can’t do it alone. If you want to support proper attribution, we want to work with you.

You can test our tech out in our demo environment by signing up here, where you can also opt in to our weekly newsletter.

P.S. If you’re currently using another ACR solution, we’ll happily show you what you’ve been missing.

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