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Rapper Ordered to Pay Sony Music $800,000 for Unauthorized Song Use

Trefuego is in trouble for using a copyrighted sample from Toshifumi Hinata’s 1986 song “Reflections."
Cover Image Source: Photo by Mihis Alex | Pexels
Cover Image Source: Photo by Mihis Alex | Pexels

A famous rapper on TikTok has been ordered to pay Sony Music $800,000 for the unauthorized use of a section of a song. The court emphasized that the penalty should serve as a lesson for the rapper to exercise greater caution regarding the content incorporated into his music. In 2021, Trefuego, also known as Dantreal Daevon Clark-Rainbolt, faced a lawsuit from Sony Music for using a segment from a 1986 Japanese song without permission.

Image Source: ismokefuego | Instagram
Image Source: @ismokefuego | Instagram

This passage was included in his track "90mh." Sony Music highlighted the widespread popularity of the song, with over 100 million streams on Spotify and featuring in 155,000 TikTok videos.

After an extensive investigation, a federal judge concluded last year that the 20-year-old rapper had used Sony Music's content without authorization. This week, the same judge ordered him to pay $802,997.23. Approximately $700,000 of his earnings were derived from platforms like Spotify, with an additional $100,000 paid to Sony in licensing fees.

The judge hopes that the hefty fine will prompt the rapper to reconsider the content of his tracks. Furthermore, he is required to continue allocating a portion of his music sales proceeds to Sony. Additionally, he must cover the $2,230 in legal fees incurred by Sony.

According to Judge Pittman, Sony was justified in pursuing legal action against the rapper for unauthorized use of their music. Despite the perception that pursuing a relatively unknown artist like Trefuego might seem excessive, Sony had valid reasons for their actions.

Since January 2021, when Sony first notified the rapper of their concerns regarding his unauthorized use of their music, the company has been actively pursuing the matter. Sony filed the lawsuit in December 2022 after attempting to have his music removed in August of the same year.

Trefuego was found to have used a copyrighted sample from Toshifumi Hinata’s 1986 song “Reflections.” In their complaint, the label pointed out that Hinata's song gained popularity after being featured in Netflix's Tigertail in 2020 and was included in popular ambient music playlists on Spotify.

"The label's lawyers stated that Trefuego brazenly attempted to benefit from Hinata's creativity and popularity without regard for U.S. copyright laws or the rights of the plaintiffs," they said. "He utilized and replicated their work without seeking permission or providing compensation, persisting even after being instructed to cease."

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A post shared by TREFUEGO (@ismokefuego)

Sony's legal action took an unconventional turn last year under Judge Pittman's direction. The judge allowed the label to bypass traditional methods of contacting Trefuego and instead communicate directly with him through Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and Soundcloud.

Judge Pittman believed Sony had made considerable efforts to locate Trefuego, including hiring a private investigator and attempting to serve him on seven occasions. One significant attempt involved Sony representatives visiting Trefuego's mother's residence on Mother's Day in the hopes of finding him there. However, he was not present, and according to the judge, his mother was unaware of his identity.

Following the resolution of these disputes, Judge Pittman delivered a ruling in November that favored Sony.