March 24, 2023 Musicology No Comments

The internet is right once in a while, and observers were right when they noticed that Toshifumi Hinata’s “Reflections” is sampled in Trefuego’s 90Mh. And after issuing takedowns back in August (to apparently limited effect), Sony has now sued Trefuego.

“Reflections,” according to the complaint is Hinata’s most popular work and has over 53 million streams on Spotify alone. But access really isn’t questionable here.

Actually, unless someone misplaced a license agreement somewhere, not much about this appears questionable.

90mh is a very popular soundtrack for TikTok videos. According to the complaint, the alleged infringing work has been streamed over 100 million times on Spotify and appeared in 155,000 TikTok videos, and had 10 million views on YouTube.

TikTok is a big place, and I’m barely there at all. Research at my kitchen table revealed that kids know both of these two songs like the back of their hands. My son sang word for word as 90Mh played on my phone. Moreover, I got: “DUH, Dad, everybody knows 90mh is a remake!” But then, since they’re my kids, they moved on to, “WAIT, they didn’t get permission?!” At that point, they were incredulous; I suppose because of the scale involved. These songs are everywhere. “Reflections,” any music supervisor or tween could tell us, has a well-understood role on TikTok. When you’re doing a certain type of video, you use that track.

Of course, my reflex is always to think of things like, “I wonder if they reperformed the sample,” or any other plausible, “they can’t really have done something so flagrant” types of hypotheses, so I looked.

But I’m afraid there’s probably no way out of this for Trefuegos. Eight measures of Reflections, sped up and pitched up, and are looping throughout “90Mh.”

Here’s 90Mh on YouTube:

And here is Reflections by Toshifumi Hinata:

It’s actually a rather interesting use of the sample. And I should add, even if this were not a sample, even if Trefuego had rerecorded the violin and piano himself, this would still be an unlicensed use of the composition. Those are two different copyrights.

But it is a sample. For anyone with their AirPods in, here is a few seconds of “90mh” in one ear and the relevant part of “Reflections,” which I sped up, pitched up, and looped, in the other ear. No need for a spectrograph; on our time table, critical detailed listening will suffice. The performance in “Reflections” is expressive, and the waltz is pushed and pulled by the piano and violin parts. It’s subtle, but you might listen for the little moments of slowing down or speeding up, hesitation, and recovery. They’re the tell-tale heart.

Reflections in your left ear; 90Mh in your right.

I’m afraid there’s not much more that I can make of this. This track is at least half Hinata’s, probably substantially more. We can quibble. The track has lots of elements that aren’t Hinata’s, obviously, but Sony will argue (they already are) that Hinata’s parts are doing the heavy lifting. And this whole thing looks pricey. The complaint, unless I missed it somewhere, didn’t even mention “statutory” damages. And despite takedown notices from Sony that according to the complaint were issued last August, the so-called “actual” damages appear to still be piling up.

Music Business Worldwide in January said the track was still on Spotify and of course TikTok.

According to ChartMetric data analyzed by MBW, just the Top 1,000 TikTok videos featuring Trefuego’s 90mh have collectively been played more than 354 million times on the ByteDance platform.

They include still-available videos with multiple millions of plays, including this one (37 million views to date), this one (29 million), and this one (17 million).

Stay tuned.

Written by Brian McBrearty