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An NFT of Jay-Z’s first album has sparked a record label lawsuit

An NFT of Jay-Z’s first album has sparked a record label lawsuit

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It’s one of the first big lawsuits over an NFT

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Roc-A-Fella Records (RAF), co-founded by hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, has sued fellow co-founder Damon Dash for allegedly hawking a non-fungible token of Jay-Z’s 1996 debut album Reasonable Doubt.

The lawsuit claims Dash partnered with platform SuperFarm to auction an NFT of Reasonable Doubt, following a well-trodden path of selling art ownership via NFT. It quotes a purported SuperFarm press release calling the sale “one of the most significant NFT auctions to date,” since it would transfer “the rights to all future revenue generated by the album from Damon Dash to the auction winner.” That’s an unusually sweeping promise for an NFT. “Selling the copyright to Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt as an NFT is a groundbreaking landmark — both for the crypto space and the broader music industry,” the statement apparently continued.

But Roc-A-Fella’s lawyers say this wasn’t Dash’s product to advertise. Dash owns a minority share in RAF, but the suit says that gives him “no right to sell a company asset” as an NFT or otherwise. SuperFarm canceled the auction at RAF’s request, but the label claims Dash is trying to find a substitute venue. RAF wants Dash to hand over any NFTs he’s minted based on Reasonable Doubt, plus monetary damages. “There is only one Reasonable Doubt — the rights to it are irreplaceable,” the complaint notes. “The bottom line is simple: Dash can’t sell what he doesn’t own.”

What’s an NFT?

NFTs allow you to buy and sell ownership of unique digital items and keep track of who owns them using the blockchain. NFT stands for “non-fungible token,” and it can technically contain anything digital, including drawings, animated GIFs, songs, or items in video games. An NFT can either be one of a kind, like a real-life painting, or one copy of many, like trading cards, but the blockchain keeps track of who has ownership of the file.

NFTs have been making headlines lately, some selling for millions of dollars, with high-profile memes like Nyan Cat and the “deal with it” sunglasses being put up for auction. There’s also a lot of discussion about the massive electricity use and environmental impacts of NFTs. If you (understandably) still have questions, you can read through our NFT FAQ.

According to TMZ, which first reported the lawsuit, Dash has called the lawsuit inaccurate — saying he’s trying to sell his share in RAF rather than the album itself. “Under the terms of the deal with a potential buyer, the buyer would buy my share of Roc-a-Fella Records and Jay-Z will have exclusive administration rights” to the album, he told TMZ. Dash also told the New York Post’s Page Six that “I’m not running around to different places trying to auction off Reasonable Doubt. I’ve been working with one platform and that’s SuperFarm.” He called the suit a scare tactic intended to make him sell his stake in the company.

The case is unrelated to another recent lawsuit where Jay-Z accused Reasonable Doubt cover photographer Jonathan Mannion of exploiting his likeness.

As NFTs have blown up in popularity, related lawsuits are starting to appear in court. This suit seemingly hinges on the nebulous description of Dash’s NFT. You can parse SuperFarm’s alleged product description to fit Dash’s claim, for instance: if you buy this NFT, you’ll get any revenue that Dash himself would have earned from the album copyright. But you can also interpret it as a full-fledged sale of the copyright, and the press release’s title promotes an “auction for Jay-Z’s iconic album Reasonable Doubt.” In any case, NFTs are supposed to confer a sense of airtight ownership and exclusivity — and auctioning off a partial stake in an iconic album doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

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