Old Town Royalties: Nine Inch Nails’ claim against Lil Nas X

June 10, 2019

2 min read

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What's going on here?

The popular song by Lil Nas X, Old Town Road, samples American rock band Nine Inch Nails. Now, the band may be able to claim royalties.

What does this mean?

Nine Inch Nails’ song ‘Ghosts IV’ was sampled in Old Town Road after Lil Nas X bought a $30 beat from a website called BeatStars. BeatStars is an online marketplace where music producers can sell beats for artists to buy for anywhere from $30 to $200.

The beat was produced by a user called YoungKio who told the New York Times that he had not heard of Nine Inch Nails until he found their song on YouTube.

Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Ghosts’ was released under a Creative Commons license. This allows the work to be remixed, so long as the artist is credited and the work is not sold commercially. The sample was not approved by the artist to appear on BeatStars or on Old Town Road. Therefore, there is seemingly a strong case for Nine Inch Nails to claim royalties for this song.

What's the big picture effect?

Primarily, a website like BeatStars is used for online collaborations. In this case, Lil Nas X was able to get the beat and create a song without ever having to meet the producer (who was based in the Netherlands). This new way of creating music is commonly used by aspiring artists who are not able to pay the significant producer fees. The positive side of this is that the barriers to entry for new artists are reduced meaning that less established artists can compete with bigger musicians.

However, as we can see here, it opens up issues with the ownership and rights over the music. Importantly, BeatStars doesn’t guarantee whether producers that sell beats on the platform have claims to copyrights on sampled beats. Thus, the rights of the producer are not guaranteed. Beats are appearing on such websites frequently, as they’re uploaded at a fast rate.

But should the website be taking more responsibility to catch any copyright issues?

For now, it is unclear whether Nine Inch Nails are going to claim royalties for the use of their music. It would ultimately be Sony (Lil Nas X’s label) that would have to answer any claim that does come in. With the rise of marketplaces like BeatStars, this case highlights the complications of sampling and ownership of music in the modern day.

Report written by Harina C

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