Does Kanye West Owe You Money?

Kanye West has a long and very public history of making rash statements and failing to think through the consequences, but this might take the cake. "My album will never never never be on Apple," West tweeted the day after the release of The Life of Pablo. "And it will never be for sale ... You can only get it on Tidal." But now you can find TLoP on Apple Music, Spotify, and Google Play — and he's getting sued because of it.

On April 18, Justin Baker-Rhett filed a class-action lawsuit against West for deceiving fans into subscribing to the streaming service on false pretenses, AP reports. He insists that West and Tidal delete the personal information of the new users and reimburse them their subscription fees, potentially costing Tidal as much as $84 million. Ouch.

Class action lawsuits like this take months to resolve, so we likely won't find out if the case will actually go to court for some time, let alone whether Kanye and Tidal will indeed have to pay the requested dues. So in the meantime, let's look at the situation and speculate on Kanye's theoretical guilt.

Most cases of false advertising concern a physical product or one-time event, something that a consumer pays for once and gets once, only to discover they've been duped when it's too late. But Tidal is a subscription service, and instead relies on a consistent commitment to renew payment. At the time that Kanye made his remarks, The Life of Pablo was indeed exclusively available on Tidal as advertised, and for all we know, he and Jay Z intended to keep it that way. Every Tidal subscriber had the chance to cancel their subscription when the album became available elsewhere, and in fact, most of the new subscribers had enjoyed the album on a free 30-day trial up until that point. If anyone's still subscribed today who joined for West's album, it's because they legitimately enjoy the service.
On the other hand, this means West's comments worked more as a publicity stunt, given the album's release and his subsequent tweets gave Tidal more attention than the struggling streaming service had ever received before. That can't be undone, regardless of whether or not people continue their subscriptions. Maybe this makes the lawsuit all the more justified, as without it, we give artists like Kanye a free license to abuse their fame without consequence.

The fact remains: Kanye said the album would never appear on any service other than Tidal, and now it has. But Kanye says a lot of things. He changed the name of his album four times before releasing it: first So Help Me God, then SWISH, then Waves, then The Life of Pablo. Then he changed the track list five times before the album's release — and in an unprecedented move, continued to change it after the album's release. Whether Kanye intentionally mislead people into subscribing to Tidal or simply changed his business strategy, maybe it's on us for taking anything Kanye says as fact, especially an offhand tweet.

In fact, Kanye's acted more than impulsive and indecisive lately. It's been easy to gang up on the undeniably narcissistic rapper for the last several years, after he infamously interrupted Taylor Swift at the VMAs and released a song called "I Am A God." But the tone has changed over the last several months, as he declared Bill Cosby innocent, and leaked backstage audio from his SNL appearance had him profanely declaring himself "more influential than any other human being." Frequent collaborator Rhymefest even expressed serious concern about the rapper, commenting "his mind and spirit isn't right." This is no longer the Kanye that South Park mocked — this Kanye keeps showing more and more signs of legitimate mental health problems, and a full-on breakdown might come any day.
So here's a statement that might be bizarrely controversial: maybe Kanye deserves our sympathy. Maybe a man who claimed recently that he faced $53 million dollars of debt (though who knows how accurate that is), an incredibly chaotic release of a deeply personal artistic project, and a visibly deteriorating mental state doesn't need a major lawsuit on his hands just because we're upset that we can hear his album for free now. We'll see how things transpire with the lawsuit in the coming months, but all things considered, the man could probably use us on his side for this one.
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