The thing that’s most surprising is that it doesn’t happen more often.
Or maybe it does, and we just don’t hear about it much. As far as crimes in the arts go, there’s nothing more devastating than having your art jacked, stolen by a stranger (or sometimes a friend, or even a mentor) and passed off as their own.
From covering dance music over the last 15 years, I’ve stumbled across many stories involving music plagiarism. One famous case involving a Chicago house classic never went to the courts at all, but was settled decades later, sources told me, after a multi-platinum artist sampled the disputed track and a flood of money suddenly made for a very lucrative “partnership.” More recently, a prominent producer was accused of using stems from demo submissions for barely changed versions he released under his own name; after blaming it on a series of errors and leaning hard on his industry contacts, he made a complete recovery and his career hardly dipped at all.
This being dance music, I even had one of my stories about dance music plagiarism plagiarized by another dance music outlet. They actually went through the trouble of translating it into Russian but preserved a few sloppy punctuation errors that gave it away. I’ve never been paid by Resident Advisor, Mixmag or EDM.com, but my words have been on published on all three sites, unattributed until I raised hell and an editor added a reference at the end to explain where they’d come from.
Every time it’s happened I’ve gotten mad; less often I’ve gotten even. Once I was advised to keep quiet about it to starve it of oxygen and attention — and to avoid bringing harm to my writing career.
I don’t think most of us know what to do when our creative output has been stolen, because most of us can’t conceive of stealing art in the first place. That was still the hardest thing to wrap my head around when Demuir told me the story about a song called “Fucked Up.”
“Fucked Up” is not the actual name of the song. It’s the vividly poetic title given to it by the man who stole it. Yes: someone stole Demuir’s track and rubbed salt in the wound by calling it “Fucked Up.”
Demuir is one of the good guys in this industry. He has a big social media presence and frequently uses it to share music tips, career advice and drops a few studio secrets along the way. More impressive is that he did this for years before the pandemic, when every suddenly out-of-work DJ discovered their “passion for teaching” and the impressive profit margins that can come from creating popular online courses.
The dude genuinely enjoyed doing these, though, and helping people out. Even after creating a Patreon for studio sessions via private streams and more, Demuir still posted so many tutorials and videos of his studio work that many people didn’t know he had a Patreon. They thought what they saw for free on YouTube and Instagram was the whole thing.
But someone was paying rapt attention.
“Fucked Up” is actually “Keep Bouncin ’19” — an unreleased track by Demuir featuring Honey Dijon. Or rather it was unreleased, before an Italian DJ decided to take care of that for him.
“Because of the pandemic I set up other income streams, one of them being Patreon,” Demuir told me. “What I typically do is post up an Instagram story that says, ‘Hey, swipe up or click this link to go to my Patreon.’ In this particular instance I used this unreleased song I did with Honey Dijon to advertise my Patreon. And the guy ripped it off.”
In short order, Demuir says, the DJ (he goes by the moniker “Sound Dome”) had renamed the track and submitted it to a label which sent it out to via their distributor to all online platforms under his own name.
Demuir discovered this when he was curating upcoming releases for another side job he has. Unfortunately for a would-be thief, that side job was working at Beatport. The latest & greatest new jacking house promo he was listening to was his own track, previously unreleased and now published under someone else’s name.
He checked the title. “Fucked Up.”
What do you do in that situation? What would YOU do? Demuir turned it around on this guy and ran his ass into the ground until he deleted his entire online presence, all of his tracks and started anew (Incredibly, he’s still using the name.) But there was a method to Demuir’s execution — under the gun with a looming release date, he ensured the pilfered track was quashed before it saw the light of day. We thought it would be instructive to put it into a short guide — a handbook of sorts, outlining the steps to defeat music plagiarism before it’s too late.
A caveat: this is not legal advice, and your mileage may vary. But this is why we never heard a thing about this incident until Demuir was ready to tell us about it and blast the person who jacked him.
Don’t Panic (But You’re Probably Already Mad.)
There’d probably be something wrong with you if you’re not pissed off by a plagiarist, but you can’t let it cloud your judgment. “You absolutely have to be strategic in how you approach this,” Demuir says.
When he first heard his track playing back to him, Demuir was in a state of “complete shock. I mean total, complete shock. I listened to this probably three times, just to say, ‘Oh, maybe they only sampled two bars, and then they flipped it somehow.’ But to have someone that actually takes your entire song, the whole thing without any changes — it was complete and utter shock.
“I’ve seen this done to other people before. I just didn’t think someone would try it with me.”
The initial shock passed into anger “very quickly. I did my research and I laid out a gameplan,” he said. He had to: the release of the track was imminent and there wasn’t much time to spare. “I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get to all the retailers and distributors in time to get it taken down,” he said. Keeping his head was vital if he was going to try.
You’re Not Alone, So Don’t Act Like It.
If you have been in the industry for awhile, you’re probably better connected than you initially think. You don’t have a team of lawyers, but you likely know someone who knows someone who is in a position to act on your behalf. And friends are better, because they’ll trust you when you say you’ve been robbed, right off the bat.
Demuir was uniquely placed to act quickly because of his work at Beatport, where he first discovered the theft. I’m a frequent critic but I can tell you that Beatport has acted as a good citizen in many cases like this. A cynic might point out they have liability if they don’t, but in the case of the notorious plagiarist Flavio Lodetti (aka “FLOD”) that we exposed two years ago, Beatport deleted his entire catalog, scattered across dozens of labels, without prompting. That probably opens them up to more legal liability than if they simply responded to each individual request independent of all others. In this case they acted quickly on Demuir’s behalf.
Demuir also found out that the DJ had an upcoming gig on the same bill with Marco Carola. “He didn’t know that Marco and I have the same agent, Bullitt Agency, for North and South America,” he says. “So I reached out to my agent and they kicked him off the gigs.”
Aim For The Head, Then For The Arms.
You don’t need to be working at Beatport or have a great agent with lots of famous, powerful clients to get justice. A big part of handling this situation — especially when you’re up against the clock — is to use the knowledge you already have of how music distribution works.
There are only a handful of prominent distributors in electronic music; it’s quick work to find out which of them is distributing stolen material and bring it to their attention. Distributors are natural chokepoints; attacking here is the most efficient way to stop plagiarized material from proliferating.
When confronted by Demuir in direct messages, Sound Dome offered to take the track down. Rather than trust him, Demuir located the distributor (Label Worx) and had them remove the release from distribution himself.
“I will always recommend to go to the distributor,” Demuir says. “They have greater tentacles than you do. But you should also to reach out in tandem to the biggest retailers too. You can’t get to every one of them. But right at the bottom of the page of Beatport or Traxsource are copyright infringement forms. Fill them out straight away. They’re actually very responsive. They don’t want to be part of the fraud either.”
Deplatform Them. Everywhere.
Not every platform is serviced by distributors, though. It might seem hopeless to chase down every platform a plagiarist might upload a track, but knowing how sites that rely on user-generated content work actually makes the takedown process simpler than you’d think.
In electronic music, a new release is likely going to have previews uploaded to SoundCloud ahead of release as promotion. Because of the quantity of copyright material uploaded by users, SoundCloud has a fairly draconian takedown policy. But in this case, that’s good.
“My first point of attack was actually SoundCloud,” Demuir says. Finding the track didn’t require any heavy research. It was as simple as hitting the search bar. “He posted the song saying it was coming, a brand new release on Beatport exclusively.”
SoundCloud handles takedown requests very simply: they take it down. If SoundCloud receives a takedown request of something you’ve uploaded, “You’re guilty until you prove otherwise,” Demuir says. “I knew that going in.” Demuir reported it, and the track was taken down and “I knew he wasn’t going to respond to that.”
‘I wanted to make a very strong example, not only to let people know this stuff goes on but to also let people know that I’m not the guy to do this to. I’ll make your life miserable. You have to do this.’
Nuke Them From Orbit, Just To Be Sure.
After taking down his SoundCloud upload of the track, Demuir tagged Sound Dome in a post. “He tried to have a DM chat with me apologizing,” Demuir says. “He said it was just a joke, that he didn’t mean to take the whole thing.”
Demuir screenshot the admission and posted it online. It may have felt gratifying to do this, but there was a tactical reason for putting him on blast aside from Demuir’s personal satisfaction.
“Believe me, I have better things to do with my time,” Demuir says. “But my thought process on this is that there’s a difference between being influenced by and absolutely plagiarizing someone’s work. I wanted to make a very strong example, not only to let people know this stuff goes on but to also let people know that I’m not the guy to do this to. I’ll make your life miserable. You have to do this.”
It’s annoying having to deal with this as an artist, but there’s a compelling case to be made for going public and going loud. For one thing: you must work from the assumption that you’re not unique, and that a thief has likely committed theft before. “Lying For Money” author Dan Davies points out that most if not all financial frauds continue until they are forcibly stopped, because they have to continuously cover up for earlier crimes.
Plagiarism seems to work in exactly the same way. Personally speaking, most times I’ve found someone lifting passages from things I’ve written, further investigation revealed they were a repeat offender that kept doing it until they were caught.
This is important, because it changes how you should approach plagiarism. What seems to be a crime targeting you specifically is likely a community contagion, affecting people (in this case, other producers) who aren’t aware they’ve been victimized. When we were researching Flavio Lodetti, it didn’t take many phone calls and emails to find out his recent acts of plagiarism weren’t isolated incidents. He was a serial thief; his whole discography was a fraud. We found multiple tracks he’d stolen that had been quietly removed from platforms over the years. This may have protected the individual but the silence allowed his crimes to continue. Only when he was publicly named did his shoplifting spree come to an end. Putting him on blast was a community service, a virtuous act that stopped a con dead in its tracks.
“We’ve just got to take this stuff seriously and go after people,” Demuir says. “I’ve made a huge example of this and I’m very proud of it. And I think it’s the way forward — you steal my music, it’s done. I’m going after you. And that’s how artists need to deal with these situations. It’s a matter of integrity.”
What seems to be a crime targeting you personally is likely a community contagion, involving people who aren’t even aware they’ve been victimized.
There has to be a postscript here, though, over a common (if half-hearted) defense of plagiarism. Every time this comes up on social media or in a story, one bro (it’s usually a bro) is handwaving in the comments about sampling. Isn’t it hypocritical, they argue, for an artist that samples music to accuse others of plagiarism?
That happened here too. “Some people try to move the conversation with me to well, you sample other music,” Demuir said. “Yes, it’s true. I sample stuff. But I interpret it in my own way and make it my own sound. So if I sample a snare or kick off a record, you know, no one will do it the way I did, just as no one would do it the way Terry or Czarina or anyone else would. It’s no different than giving three DJs the same 12 tracks. They will all play them differently.”
The distinction is important to make. “To be clear, I’ve heard my drums on different tracks before, and I’m fine with that. Like, it’s a kick and a snare. It’s some percussion and swing. This is not what happened here.”
Despite this situation, Demuir doesn’t plan to dial back his social media use or start putting loud, awkward drops over unreleased music he posts. “I’ve been doing this for a while,” he says “and, you know, this is the only instance of plagiarism I’ve had. So it won’t change my approach too much. I’ll just keep doing my thing.”
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