TikTok vs. Copyright Law

While many businesses have experienced COVID-19 related disruptions, there is one notable exception. Around March 2020, TikTok saw an exponential growth in users after many states issued shelter in place orders. TikTok is owned by ByteDance, the Beijing based company responsible for Musical.ly. It is a social media app that allows users to create short comedy, dance, lip sync videos.

In part, due to its rapid growth, TikTok has experienced several legal issues. Many users will post a video using a piece of popular music and come back to find the audio missing. This is because users are using copyrighted music without a license. Copyright holders issue a takedown notice to protect their work from being used without a license.

TikTok has pushed back against these copyright issues by citing the popularity of the app. The largest influencers on the apps have tens of millions of followers. These influencers have the ability to make artists trend by using a ten second clip of a song. Indeed, many of the songs on the Billboard Hot 100 can attribute their popularity and success to TikTok.

However, copyright holders are justifiably concerned. By using copyrighted music without a license, TikTok is depriving artists of royalties they are owed. A song can gain traction and be used millions of times on the app but the artist will not be compensated unless there is a licensing agreement in place.

TikTok has reached a tenuous and short-term solution to this issue. TikTok has entered into short term licensing deals with large record companies such as Universal Music, Sony, and Warner Music. Users can utilize any of the music from the library of these labels.  While these three music labels encompass a good number of popular artists, they do not account for all the music used on the app. Furthermore, TikTok’s licensing deal with these three music labels is temporary and subject to reevaluation and change. A short-term deal allows record labels to evaluate TikTok’s growth and impact on the music industry.

If TIkTok’s popularity persists, it will have to address these copyright issues in a more meaningful way. Otherwise, TikTok will be faced with a lot of disappointed users that find that their videos no longer have sound.

Written by: Palak V. Patel