After sparking music industry outrage over a plan to auction an NFT for every song in the world — without first securing rights holders’ permission — NFT platform HitPiece now reaching out to artists’ teams in hopes of forging official partnerships. Co-founder Rory Felton also tells Billboard the company has hired Gary Greenstein of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati “to represent the company in discussions with rights owners and to advise HitPiece on legal matters.”
After HitPiece’s beta launch in caught the industry’s attention in February for pulling artwork and other information off of Spotify without artists’ permission, the backlash caused Felton’s company to pull its site offline. Days later, the RIAA — on behalf of the major labels — threatened a lawsuit against HitPiece and sent a public demand letter alleging that the NFT company had violated intellectual property rights.
On Feb. 18, in the wake of the controversy, according to correspondence reviewed by Billboard, HitPiece’s artist relations representative Utkarsh Uppal sent emails to artists’ teams with the subject line “Artwork license opportunity for the Metaverse.” In it, the company rep describes an artist partnership with HitPiece to be a “non-exclusive lucrative licensing opportunity” which will “enable fans to express their appreciation for the music they love by letting them display artwork associated with their favorite music on a digital/metaverse shelf when they buy an NFT.”
The emails also stated that “artists can earn a 90% royalty on initial auctions, and a 10% royalty on all resales between fans” and will offer a “cash advance and a partnership opportunity.” It briefly mentions the earlier beta launch, saying simply that “there was a limited beta test, and we are now implementing product features to ensure only Artists can control the minting and sale of their digital goods.” It does not mention the RIAA demand letter.
When Billboard asked the company for comment, Felton replied by saying, “HitPiece is in fact reaching out to artists…We think artists have the right to control their emotional connection with both their music and their fans and HitPiece is working to foster that engagement.” He added that HitPiece offers “some of the most attractive economics to artists for both initial sales and resales of NFTs.”
Felton’s statements mark a distinct pivot from the company’s beginnings last fall, prior to the beta launch, in which HitPiece used the names of bands like Cartel and Copeland in promotional emails, implying that the bands were official partners. But representatives from both bands, including Copeland’s Aaron Marsh, told Billboard they had never discussed NFTs with the company.
When the beta version of HitPiece’s site went up, artists of all sizes — from XXXTentacion to John Lennon to Left at London — were listed as if they had put their work up for auction with HitPiece, but most didn’t know it was happening. “All of my artists on the platform with NFTs up for sale were not authorized,” one independent label manager previously told Billboard. “I had never heard of the site before today, nor met with any representative for them.”
Following its beta launch, Billboard asked a HitPiece representative to explain how artists who were unknowingly listed on the site could get paid for sales of their NFTs. The company responded by stating, “The ability of artists or owners to be paid is a functionality that HitPiece is developing.”