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Universal Music goes legal over investment platform Republic moving into music

By | Published on Tuesday 16 November 2021

Universal Music

Universal Music has sued New York-based online investment platform Republic over its recent launch of a music investments set-up, via which fans can invest in new recordings from their favourite artists and earn a share of future royalties. The problem? Well, there’s already an entity called Republic that invests in new recordings from your favourite artists and then earns a share of future royalties. And that’s Universal Music owned Republic Records.

Republic – the investment platform, not the label – has moved into music via a partnership with Opulous, the music-centric fin-tech and NFTs company launched by the founders of Ditto Music. That partnership was announced last month and got under way earlier this month by allowing fans to buy into the rights and royalties of a new track by Lil Pump and Soulja Boy. The next artist set to use Republic’s music service is Kshmr.

Universal would likely get pissed off if any company called Republic starting dabbling in music, given Republic Records launched in 1995 and became part of the major music group in 2000. However, it’s probably particularly pissed off here, given that some people spin ventures like that being developed by Republic and Opulous as being a sneaky way for artists to pursue successful recording careers without having to sully themselves by working with old-school record labels.

Of course, people also said that when the original fan-funding start-ups launched in the 2000s, and that never really happened, most failing to gain traction, and those that did morphing more into direct-to-fan services than investment vehicles to rival labels. However, with added blockchain and NFT goodness, and with more ways for artists to access distribution and marketing services, and with more managers able to lead marketing campaigns, maybe this time fan-funding really is a threat to labels.

In its pitch to investors and fans wanting to buy into new recordings by the likes of Lil Pump and Kshmr, the Republic investment platform – as well as talking up how investors will get a cut of future royalties and some other nifty perks – also assures those spending with the service that, by directly funding artists, they are helping to “fix [a record] industry that pays creators only 12% of the revenues they generate”.

In the trademark infringement lawsuit it filed on Friday, Universal Music says that it sent a cease and desist to the Republic investment platform as soon as its partnership with Opulous was announced last month. Initially, it says, lawyers repping the investment firm seemed keen to reach a settlement. But then they bailed on settlement talks.

“Plaintiff brings this action to stop defendant’s wanton effort to usurp plaintiff’s Republic name and trademarks for itself in connection with new music-related services that defendant recently launched under the names Republic and/or Republic Music”, says that lawsuit.

“According to defendant, its new Republic-branded services allow fans to ‘invest in [their] favourite artists’ songs and earn returns from streaming royalties’ for those songs”, it goes on.

“This ‘investment’ in turn also gives fans access to music, tickets, artist merchandise, and other special events – all things that are typically associated with a record label. Indeed, defendant advertises its new Republic-branded music services as the record label of the future, promising artists that ‘the fans are your new record label'”.

“If defendant delivers on this promise”, it argues, “then the artists, labels, managers, agents, and fans who currently know of only plaintiff’s Republic label would be presented with two different companies offering identical services under identical names in the same industry. Confusion is inevitable”.

In fact, it adds, “in the short time since defendant announced the launch of its music-related services offered under defendant’s Republic marks, there have already been instances of actual confusion among members of the public and industry professionals who mistakenly believed that there is an association between plaintiff and defendant. If defendant’s use is not stopped, there will no doubt be further instances of actual confusion”.

And if Republic the investment platform tries to say, “hey, we’re nothing like a label, nothing at all, we’re all about the NFTs baby!”, well, that’s still confusing, reckons Universal. Because, you know, Republic Records is all about the NFTs too. This being 2021 and it being a major record label.

“Universal Music Group is also expanding into the non-fungible token space”, it adds. “The company is in talks with leading innovators in the NFT space to sell unique artwork, music, and content associated with all of the labels under the Universal Music Group umbrella – including Republic”.

With all that in mind, Universal would like a court order stopping Republic the investment vehicle from using the Republic brand in the music space. And, of course, some lovely damages.

Maybe Republic and Opulous could raise monies to fight this case by selling some NFTs, allowing music fans everywhere to get involved in a good old fashioned music industry legal battle. To be honest, that sounds more fun than a Lil Pump record.