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Rapper Trefuego Ordered To Pay Over $800K For Use Of Unlicensed Sample In TikTok Hit “90MH” 

Updated: May 6

As reported by Music Business Worldwide, in January of last year, Sony Music filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Trefuego, the rapper behind the TikTok hit "90mh". The lawsuit accused Trefuego of "the flagrant and deliberate infringement" of both the sound recording and underlying composition in the 1986 track "Reflections", released by Japanese composer Toshifumi Hinata. As Music Business Worldwide explained in an earlier report, the track went viral on TikTok and YouTube, and racked up over 170 million Spotify streams. Sony had a strong case, as it was difficult to mistake a sped-up key violin motif from Hinata's track, appearing looped repeatedly in "90mh".

The outcome of the case has now been decided, and Trefuego has been ordered to pay Sony Music $802,997.23 in damages, including $14,078.82 currently held by DistroKid. According to the court, Trefuego released the song "90mh", which impermissibly sampled Sony's copyrighted work and then evaded communications related to the lawsuit and ignored the court's orders.

Sony Music's original lawsuit, filed in December 2022, claimed that "Trefuego... simply stole Hinata's musical composition and sound recording, using them without asking and without permission, all in flagrant violation of the United States Copyright Laws". It added: "Trefuego's infringing conduct has and continues to severely damage and diminish the market for Hinata's works by falsely inferring that he endorses and/or supports Trefuego's use of Reflections in 90mh."

In the judgment issued this week, Sony's motion for damages was granted in part and denied in part. Sony sought $802,997.23 in damages, $2,230.67 in costs, a permanent injunction against future infringement of its copyrights, and a percentage of future profits attributable to Defendant's infringement. The parts of the motion that were granted by the court were the $802,997.23 in damages and $2,230.67 in costs.

According to the court document, "at least $700,497.23 in revenue" was generated by the infringing work, $686,418.41 of which was paid to Trefuego and $14,078.82 held by his third-party distributor (DistroKid) after it learned of Sony's lawsuit. The document also provides a breakdown of these amounts with SME's and SMP's lost license fees.

The court ruled that Trefuego is permanently enjoined from copying, performing, or otherwise exploiting "90mh" without (1) paying 50% of revenues connected to the "90mh" musical composition to Plaintiff Sony Music Publishing and paying 20% of revenues connected to the "90mh" sound recording to Sony Music Entertainment. The court ruled however that Sony failed "to establish the required grounds" for the permanent injunction it sought.

In his order, Judge Mark T. Pittman noted that "In this case, Sony pursued a reasonable, non-frivolous claim to vindicate infringement of its copyrighted work, and that “some may query the wisdom of pursuing a claim against a relatively small fish like Trefuego, but that fact does not render Sony's motivation improper or their lawsuit unreasonable.”

He added: “In fact, the only unreasonable behavior in this case was Defendant's, as his consistent attempts to evade service and eschew meaningful communications stymied case progress and drove up Sony's costs.”

“The Court hopes this serves as a lesson for Defendant and similarly situated litigants: the Court is sympathetic to Defendant's willfulness arguments and could have appointed mediators and/or legal counsel to assist Defendant in raising this argument or otherwise pursuing an efficient resolution of Sony's claim.”

“While it can be daunting for many defendants to appear in federal court or respond to service of process, the only wrong answer in such circumstances is refusal to respond or to comply with court orders. You can run from process servers, but you can't hide from the law.”

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