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    According to Kanye West, it is Time to Free Music–Is he Right?

    Genesis Perez Medina
    By Genesis Perez Medina

    Kanye West surprised the world when he announced that his new album “DONDA 2” will not be available on streaming services like Apple, Amazon, Spotify, and YouTube.[i]  The artist, who legally changed his name to “Ye,” has always been vocal about the lack of control artists have over their work.  The Grammy award winner said: “[t]oday, artists get just 12% of the money the industry makes.  It’s time to free music from this oppressive system.  It’s time to take control and build our own.”[ii]  Ye announced that his new album would be released exclusively on his new platform called “Stem Player.”[iii]

    The new streaming service is far from cheap.  If people want to listen to Ye’s new album, they will have to pay $200.  However, the new platform gives users access to more than just the album. Users can also manipulate parts of the album’s recording like the drums, vocals, bass, and samples to create new remixes.[iv]  This is not the first time Ye has attempted to achieve independence from the record industry.  In 2016, the artist launched his record “The Life of Pablo” through Tidal’s streaming service.  Yet, this attempt was not successful, as a few months later, the album ended up on streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music.[v]

    This time the rapper has been more successful as he has sold over 6,200 devices in 24 hours, making $1.3 million.  The streaming service has made over $8.6 million since it was released.[vi]  Even though the rapper’s intentions of changing the music industry to allow artists to control their work might be a good idea, this streaming service may create copyright issues.  For example, Stem Player might be problematic when proving copyright infringement.

    Since Stem Player allows users to manipulate the original work by making their own remixes, Ye will enable users to create derivative works of his songs.  This can undermine the artist’s authorship claims to the album.  Some aspects of the derivative work added by the “new” author are that author’s property.  However, elements from the pre-existing work are the original author’s property if the original work remains out of the public domain.[vii] A derivative work might be infringing if the person doing the derivative work does not have a valid license or assignment to use the preexisting work.[viii]

    “The subject matter of copyright . . . includes compilations and derivative works. But protection for a work employing preexisting material in which copyright subsists does not extend to any part of the work in which such material has been used unlawfully.”[ix] The copyrightable material in a derivative extends only to the material contributed by the author of such work and not to the preexisting material employed in the work.[x] Copyright in a derivative work is independent of the copyright protection of the preexisting material.[xi] This means that Ye might have a copyright on any derivative work of his new album but not on the new material contributed by the author of the derivative work. This can get messy when it comes to copyright. By allowing people to manipulate the records, Ye enables people to make multiple derivatives of his album over which he does not have any creative control. Also, some people may claim that by allowing people to manipulate his album, the artist is putting his work in the public domain; therefore, this could mean the rapper will lose his copyright on the preexisting work.

    If one of these derivative works becomes commercially successful, the rapper may want to claim legal rights to the work. However, he might not have a valid copyright claim on the entire piece. Ye may only be able to claim authorship on the preexisting material. It is unclear whether Ye’s new platform will retain the authorship rights of the derivative work or if the new author will own the copyrights on the new work.  These are essential questions because this can negatively affect future copyright infringement lawsuits that the rapper could face.  What is clear is the rapper’s desire to change the music industry, but only time will tell whether Ye’s new platform is a good idea.

    [i] See Ben Gilbert, Kanye West’s new album won’t come to streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music — only his $200 music player, Bus. Insider (Feb. 18, 2022),

    [ii] Id.

    [iii] See Joshua Bloomgarden, Could Kanye “Ye” West’s Stem Player Create several Copyright Issues? JD supra (Feb. 25, 2022),

    [iv] See id.

    [v] See Ye’s Stem Player: What is it and why Kanye West claims it can free music, Marca (Feb. 23, 2022),

    [vi] See Daniel Kreps, Kanye West Slams Streaming Services: ‘Songwriters Have Been Really Hurt’, Rolling Stone (Feb. 18, 2022),

    [vii] See 17 U.S.C.S. § 501 (2021).

    [viii] See id.

    [ix]  See id.

    [x] See id. § 103(b).

    [xi] See id.

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