The story of Trefuego’s TikTok hit 90mh – and Sony’s bid to scrub it from the internet

The artwork for Trefuego's 90mh, which has recently re-appeared on Spotify via third parties after Sony Music issued a lawsuit regarding its alleged infringement of a sampled piece of music by a Japanese composer

“Does anyone know why this song is banned on Spotify?”


whyd 90mh get removed from spotify”

All comments posted on Twitter and YouTube at various points in late 2022 by fans of a viral TikTok hit.

Said hit, originally released in September 2019, is 90mh by independent Arizona-based rapper, Trefuego.

Each of these three comments beckons the same explanation: Because Sony Music issued a strict copyright takedown notice on 90mh to Spotify and other key platforms on August 9, 2022.

That occurrence is revealed in a lawsuit, obtained by MBW, filed by Sony Music Entertainment and Sony Music Publishing against Trefuego in the District of Arizona in December.

“Trefuego… simply stole Hinata’s musical composition and sound recording, using them without asking and without permission.”

Sony Music lawsuit

Sony Music’s lawsuit (read it in full here) accuses Trefuego, within 90mh, 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 (Hinata).

Reads Sony’s lawsuit: “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 adds: “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.”

If Trefuego (real name unknown) didn’t have pre-approved copyright clearance to sample Reflections, Sony has a strong case here: It’s hard to mistake a sped-up key violin motif from Hinata’s track appearing, looped repeatedly, in 90mh.

Sony Music is seeking payment for damages from the alleged copyright infringement by Trefuego across six separate counts – spanning both recorded music and music publishing rights – plus “any gains, profits, and advantages obtained by [Trefuego] as a result of his infringing acts”.

But that’s not where this story ends.

Credit: Shutterstock/Diego Thomazini
90mh on Spotify

Within Sony’s legal complaint, filed on December 22, the company notes: “Notwithstanding having notice since at least the beginning of 2021, Trefuego continued to make the Infringing Works available until SME issued a takedown request to digital service providers (“DSPs”) on August 9, 2022.”

At first glance, that takedown request appears to have been successful: Search for ‘Trefuego – 90mh’ on Spotify today, and the artist’s track will not appear.

It also doesn’t appear on Trefuego’s official Spotify profile page, where his biggest track is credited as Beni Özle, with 1.2 million plays to date.

Trefuego’s 90mh does not appear on his Spotify profile page following Sony Music’s August 2022 takedown request

Yet if you have the direct URL link for Trefuego’s 90mh on Spotify, easily discoverable on Google search, you can still find the track – both in Spotify’s web player and on its desktop app.

According to this still-available Spotify track page, 90mh has been played more than 172 million times on the service to date.

This is where things begin to get a little strange.

Trefuego’s track page for 90mh clearly shows it has racked up over 172 million plays to date

Trefuego’s recording of 90mh appears to have been re-uploaded to Spotify last Thursday (January 5, 2023) five months after Sony’s August takedown request.

Oddly, this re-upload came via a different ‘artist’ on Spotify: BurakXD. This BurakXD ‘version’ of 90mh is searchable within Spotify.

On the BurakXD page, 90mh is credited as being both (p) and (c), i.e. having copyright ownership attributed to the artist’s own Urelia Records.

Strangely, the BurakXD-uploaded 90mh track has the exact same number of credited streams as the un-searchable version of the song on Trefuego’s artist page – suggesting a metadata link between the BurakXD upload and the ‘official’ Trefuego version.

Largely as a result of 90mh’s popularity, BurakXD currently has over 226,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.

An additional version of Trefuego’s 90mh – audibly identical to the BurakXD release – has recently been uploaded by another ‘artist’ on Spotify, too.

Reno’s upload of the track is also searchable on Spotify, and currently has over 371,000 plays on the platform.

This time, Reno claims the copyright to the song – via a (c) 417349 Records DK credit on Spotify.

The Reno ‘version’ of 90mh was uploaded in December and has over 371k plays to date

So what’s going down?

Could we be looking at the same “lax metadata protections” on Spotify that MBW highlighted in an investigative analysis piece last summer – via which enterprising ‘artists’ appeared to be harvesting royalties from other people’s popularity on the service?

Bottom line: don’t expect Sony Music – five months on from issuing a legal copyright takedown request – to be delighted at the continued easy availability of Trefuego’s 90mh on Spotify, complete with its offending (alleged) Hinata sample.

The top two search results for ’90mh’ on Spotify are credited to BurakXD and Reno. They appear to be replications of the Trefuego recording. Trefuego’s artist page is also associated with the search, despite Sony Music’s takedown request in August 2022.

TikTok logo
90mh on TikTok and YouTube

It isn’t just Spotify that continues to host Trefuego’s 90mh, either.

Within its lawsuit against Trefuego filed in December, Sony Music wrote: “Since their release, [90mh’s recording and underlying composition] have been featured in over 155,000 videos on TikTok alone, have received over 100 million streams on Spotify, and have nearly 10 million views on YouTube.”

Yet despite Sony’s attempt at a comprehensive copyright takedown of the track, it continues to be widely available across TikTok today.

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).

The most popular TikTok video that uses Trefuego’s 90mh has over 37 million plays, and over 2 million Likes

Finally, over on YouTube – just like at Spotify – 90mh doesn’t appear on the official Trefuego page.

The track is findable, though: One user-uploaded YouTube video featuring the song has racked up more than 8 million views; another has 6.3 million views.

To clarify, these still-available recordings of Trefuego’s track aren’t cropping up because Sony Music’s legal case is nearing its end: Trefuego is yet to respond, either directly or via his lawyers, to the lawsuit.

On the contrary, in late December, the Arizona District Court issued a Summons against Trefuego to his home in Arizona. It read: “If you fail to respond, judgment by default will be entered against you for the relief demanded in [Sony’s] complaint.”

Squabbling with fellow rightsholders over the illegitimate use of samples has long been an ugly but necessary job for the legal divisions of major record companies – who, after all, are there to protect the value of their own copyrights, and of their own artists. 

Yet the story of Trefuego and 90mh may point to a particularly ominous sign for record companies in the modern business.

It’s been nearly two decades since the music industry had to figure out how to battle widespread music copyright infringement by consumers. For the labels, that battle preceded a lucrative streaming era where 99.99% of their music is legally monetized for them by licensed digital partners.

Yet what happens when one or some of the millions of independent artists operating today uploads a track that infringes valuable copyrights – and music rightsholders are left relying on those same licensed digital partners to clean up the mess?

On the evidence of Trefuego’s 90mh, it’s a more chaotic process than labels would hope for.

As the old adage goes, once something’s on the internet – no matter how much you might wish to scrub it from existence – it’s there forever.Music Business Worldwide