On Tuesday night, musicians used Twitter to express outrage at a website that was selling their music as NFTs without permission before it shut down hours later.
On its website, HitPiece claimed it offers "One of One" NFTs for "each unique song record." Turning songs into NFTs allows members to then create a "Hitlist," which HitPiece envisions will include "their favorite songs, get on leaderboards, and recieve [sic] in real life value such as access and experiences with Artists."
Seemingly, anyone could register on HitPiece to sell a piece of music as an NFT, even on an artist’s behalf. “Each time an artist’s NFT is purchased or sold, a royalty from each transaction is accounted to the rights holders account,” HitPiece’s website stated.
There was a clear issue, however: It wasn’t artists themselves selling their work as an NFT, in most cases. HitPiece’s homepage was hawking recordings from Pokémon and the Tokyo DisneySea theme park, as well as well-known artists like John Lennon and Muse. But that wasn’t all; seemingly, music from artists of all levels had made it onto the platform without permission.
Know more about HitPiece or NFTs of art made without the permission of the creator? Securely contact Edward Ongweso JR on a non-work device on Signal at 202-642-8240 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The reality is that the immoral, unethical thing is that someone stole and profited off of someone's work without permission,” said Jordan Reyes, founder of American Dream Records, who found out his entire label was listed on HitPiece. “These sorts of scams have existed forever. Now it's utilizing this new technology, but it is a huge scam. It's really absurd and kind of hilarious that they offered a Beatles NFT, a Pinocchio NFT. In a good year, our label sells 10,000-15,000 records a year. Disney sells 10,000-15,000 in an hour likely. Whatever legal recourse I would have with this, there are people who are way bigger fish than me up in arms. It feels really half-baked."
Perhaps recognizing the outrage and the potential for copyright infringement, HitPiece went offline and replaced its homepage with a simple message: “We Started The Conversation And We’re Listening.” It also posted a statement to Twitter suggesting that it will, eventually, be back.
“Clearly we have struck a nerve and are very eager to create the ideal experience for music fans,” HitPiece’s statement said. “To be clear, artists get paid when digital goods are sold on HitPiece. Like all beta products, we are continuing to listen to all user feedback and are committed to evolving the product to fit the needs of the artists, labels, and fans alike.”
HitPiece launched in beta on Dec. 1 with the apparent goal of “connecting artists and fans directly.” The platform claims to run on a bespoke blockchain called HitChain that runs parallel to the Ethereum blockchain (also known as a “sidechain”). According to the site, NFTs would only be minted and transferred to buyers after an auction was completed. The HitPiece block explorer reveals that hundreds of NFTs have been minted since the service launched.
On Instagram, HitPiece touted official collaborations with two artists. One track was a remix of a song by indie rock group The National Parks. When reached for comment, the band’s management said, “Transparently we just recently signed the band, so we are playing as much catch up on this as everyone else,” adding that there was no statement at this time. A request for comment sent to the other artist, Cort Dingman, was not returned in time for publication.
On social media, frustrated artists speculated that HitPiece was able to gather such a wide range of music through the APIs of digital service providers like Spotify and Apple Music, though Motherboard wasn’t able to confirm this. The team behind Hitpiece was identified relatively quickly on LinkedIn by angry artists: Rory Felton, once a 30 under 30 Billboard music executive who worked for Sony and runs his own label; Michael Berrin, a music executive and former rapper who was a big star in the early 1990s as MC Serch; and Ryan Singer and Blake Modersitzki, two tech venture capitalists.
When Motherboard reached Berrin for comment, he said that HitPiece was preparing another statement.
While people have been stealing music and attempting to profit from it without permission for a while now, the scale and brazenness of this scheme is thanks in no small part to the implementation of NFTs and the disastrous ecosystem they reside in.
Jordan Pearson contributed reporting to this article.