Embattled Music NFT Platform HitPiece Relaunches
Rory Felton, HitPiece
After being inundated with public cease and desist requests and a virulent storm of criticism in February, NFT-music streaming platform HitPiece has returned with a soft launch of a brand new iteration of the site.
According to founder Rory Felton, music previously featured on HitPiece, sans rightsholder permission, will not be on the site.
Unauthorized albums and tracks previously available on the HitPiece Beta were determined to have been scraped directly from Spotify’s API. When asked about the platform's criticism from artists whose music appeared on the site without permission from rights holders, Felton denied the claims.
“It’s important to note we had no unauthorized music at all on our website,” he said. “No music was touched in any capacity.
“We clearly failed to have the proper guardrails in place before we put [HitPiece] up live, and even during that time…we didn't think of it as live, even though it was,” he continued. “We used it more as a tool to have conversations with artists, labels, rights holders, managers, of which we had had hundreds of during that time and even more hundreds after that. The feedback was always really positive, exciting, enthusiastic, and curious.”
HitPiece's Beta home page
Mark Jaffe, a trademark and copyright attorney for 5 Bridges Law, said he couldn’t imagine any copyright lawyer saying ‘clearly’ regarding the rights to mint an NFT.
“An artist usually assigns copyrights in the sound recording to the record company. The right to mint NFTs could possibly be stated in the contract, but I doubt that's common,” Jaffe explained. “Most recording contracts were entered into before anyone thought about that. But the record label will usually own rights to all formats, including those yet to be invented.”
Now months after the fiery backlash for utilizing music sans permission from copyright holders, the HitPiece founder stated that the site would require an artist to register and be verified by automatic content identification service, Audible Magic, before claiming any music or uploading NFTs.
According to Felton, HitPiece is the first NFT music platform to partner with Audible Magic, a third-party intermediary that automatically vets content for major platforms and distributors in order to monetize it.
“Rightsholders, namely major labels, independent labels, independent distributors and even artists directly will catalog their audio with Audible Magic and Audible Magic then can tell third party websites hey, that music’s copyrighted, you need to take it down,” said Felton.
“Only [verified artists] control the minting and on sale process of their NFTs, and all this is done on main net Ethereum…Artists now have the ability to mint collections either as artwork collections or music collections,” said Felton.
HitPiece via website.
According to Jaffe, Felton’s analysis—and HitPiece’s new verification process— doesn't consider the copyrights in underlying compositions.
“Those usually aren't owned by the record label and could be owned by many different rights holders,” said the trademark attorney.
Felton did not elaborate on how HitPiece will ensure NFT sellers are copyright holders of individual works.
“If an artist is in an exclusive recording contract, they’ll be minting content that they clearly have the rights to mint,” said Felton. “But if they happen to have the rights to mint audio NFTs, or music NFTs, when they upload that music, a clip of it gets sent to Audible Magic’s database and essentially A/B Test it against their entire database. If it comes back that there’s a match—meaning someone else has likely copyrighted that music—we’ll ensure that that person minting NFTs is that owner of the copyright,” he said.
HitPiece, via website
HitPiece has also expanded into the metaverse space by adding a virtual reality component to their project called the Lounge. In it, listeners can link to their music NFTs and stream them on the site, said Felton. “We envision this lounge being almost a starting point into other artists' metaverses that we’re also building out as well, and we’ll announce in the future.”
Artists who wish to release music NFTs on the new HitPiece will also have the option to double them as access tokens—allowing holders to browse unreleased mixtapes or other content that an artist may want to gate solely for NFT owners.
Hitpiece, via website.
According to the HitPiece founder, the platform integrates with Metamask, Coinbase, and WalletConnect. The beta previously ran on “HitChain,” a blockchain that allegedly ran alongside Ethereum.
Shortly after the beta version launched, users discovered that they could initiate bids without a crypto wallet connected or a profile created for large sums on a track.
“The Beta itself was not on a decentralized chain, so the tokens themselves were not transferable or sellable on secondary marketplaces in any way,” said Felton. However, a HitPiece Block Explorer revealed that the platform minted hundreds of NFTs since its launch in December 2021.
HitPiece’s homepage previously featured hawked songs by artists like John Lennon and media juggernauts of the likes of Disney, all of which did not provide their explicit permission.
Felton insists that HitPiece’s focus remains on the music ecosystem, and on creating opportunities for artists using new economic models. “I think that NFTs will be here in tandem with streaming,” said Felton.
“I see artists—and they’re already doing this—they’re releasing music on streaming but releasing collectibles around that music as NFTs to give their fans something to connect with them, to display in their metaverse, to express their love and appreciation for that music. And then also open up utility in the real world and the virtual world. We’re excited to continue to bring new innovation, for artists, and the utility that they can offer fans through NFT ownership.”
To date, HitPiece says they have registered and verified 50 artists. Currently the platform's website displays only 9 artists. In terms of NFTs, only 29 of the 35 NFTs listed on the site are currently featured as "available." Many of the artists registered are still developing and, according to Felton, “may be releasing music NFTs before they put music on streaming.”