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Music NFT Startup HitPiece Relaunches, Months After Being Called a ‘Scam Operation’

Undeterred by February's backlash, HitPiece moves from beta to "buttoned up."

The music NFT company HitPiece announced its official launch last week, months after a contentious preview that caused the platform to temporarily shut down.

HitPiece, which aims to be “the easiest place to create and buy authentic music artist NFTs,” according to a press release, is attempting to bounce back after a disastrous beta phase that drew condemnation from across the music industry. In February, artists (including Jack Antonoff and Sadie Dupuis) and trade organizations (both the Recording Industry Association of America and the American Association of Independent Musicians) were among those who accused HitPiece of copyright infringement by creating NFTs for acts without those acts’ involvement.

Jared Freedman, RIAA’s senior vice president of litigation, sent a scathing letter to HitPiece denouncing their “outright theft of … valuable intellectual property rights,” which he called “outrageous” and “brazen.”

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In a recent interview with Input, HitPiece founder Rory Felton acknowledged that his venture previously “failed to have the proper guardrails in place around the product, which led to the miscommunications and challenges that happened. We made mistakes with that, and we’re looking to learn from that and build upon that.”

However, Felton disputed the notion that HitPiece was “a scam operation,” as Ken Doroshow, the RIAA’s chief legal officer, put it in February. “I do not agree at all with the RIAA claim,” the HitPiece founder told Input.

In an email to Billboard, Felton said that no one had taken legal action against HitPiece after the eruption of anger earlier this year. When asked about what lessons the platform had learned, Felton wrote that “we need to be buttoned up whenever we allow any portion of our service to be publicly available.” “By buttoned up,” he continued, “I mean having secured the necessary rights to any content that is made available through our platform.”

As HitPiece moves out of its test phase, Felton told Input it has signed up a group of young artists and producers that includes ATL Jacob, Lil Gnar, and Lil Gotit. He added that, while HitPiece is “not actively speaking with RIAA,” it is in contact with the organization’s “member parties,” the record companies. He did not offer any further details about those negotiations.

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To entice more acts to sign up for HitPiece, the platform is planning to offer access to a “music lounge where you’ll be able to share… your NFTs in an immersive listening room.” In an email, Felton said his company was still in the process of obtaining the rights for this. “HitPiece is working with the licensors of music to secure performance rights,” he wrote. “We may enter into agreements with individual songwriters and publishers rather than PROs since the licenses from PROs may not be well suited for our platform. We may also enter into agreements directly with recording artists who have those rights or their record labels.”

In another attempt to placate past critics, HitPiece also announced that it’s working closely with Audible Magic, a music rights identification company, “to help verify ownership of new music prior to minting of an NFT, thus ensuring only legitimate content is distributed.”

The HitPiece announcement seems aimed at assuring critics that it harbors good intentions. The platform declares it “has seen every corner of the industry,” and “too often creators are not in control of how and when they can release content.” Just six months ago, however, some creators were furious that HitPiece had taken some of that control without asking them.

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The HitPiece announcement also notes that “Audible Magic identifies content so creators can focus on maximizing Web 3.0’s new revenue and engagement opportunities rather than losing earnings to fraudulent sellers.” Just months ago, though, HitPiece was itself accused of preparing to sell NFTs without permission that could be necessary.

While HitPiece appeared to blow up its bridge to the music industry before construction even began, Felton still seemed sanguine about his platform’s prospects.

“I think anyone in the startup world, you’re pushing a new reality on the universe, right?” he told Input. “It’s never an easy feat.”