The Multi-Billion Dollar app has seen success from its formula of 15-second videos. These videos can become viral, but with the increase in popularity, it has caused quite a large copyright conundrum.
Having been in the entertainment industry pretty much all my life, the issue always now seems to be around copyright, for music artists, bands where companies like Tik Tok, are flaunting the rules. With most companies and people believe music is free!
The platform which was originally founded in China has recently been having caused quite a stir in the news of late.
With Donald Trump threatening to ban the app in the United States for security concerns, the conglomerates Microsoft and Walmart offering to purchase the app so the aforementioned does not occur.
As well as the newly occurring Chinese AI export rules/restrictions, which could put the whole idea of a United States deal in jeopardy as a result of the Chinese app having a Civilian and Military use.
However, one of the largest issues it has faced as a result of popularity is the legal issue concerning the use of copyrighted materials.
Around 50% or more of the Music on TikTok could be unlicensed music, come on this is a complete joke…
Which demonstrates a blatant disregard and infringement of other peoples’ copyright rights.
Which raises the question can people make claims against the company for breaching their rights or are their existing legal grounds that permit users to be able to use copyrighted work?
The answer to this is not a quite clear cut and has therefore created a legal grey area, no surprise there!
The app allows users to create short 15 second videos which can span from comical skits to lip-syncing, to dance routines and other creative ideas.
There are no issues with this per-say and the users are awarded copyright of the video’s that they create. The issues start with the unlicensed music used by the user in the videos.
This has seen many different companies in the music industry attempting to negotiate with the platform and their parent company Bytedance.
The United Kingdom came to an agreement with the platform allowing National Music Publishers’ Association members to opt-in to a licencing framework. This allows artists to benefit from their works.
This came into effect on the 1st May 2020.
If the songwriter is not an NMPA member in the United Kingdom it might be possible under the grounds of Parody to be able to use a copyrighted piece of work ‘where a comedian may use a few lines from a film or song for a parody sketch’ and as TikTok videos are 13- 15-second videos which borrows off of meme culture it could qualify under this purpose.
TikTok has granted their users with a generous licence which allows them to undermine copyright laws.
Permitting users to be able to use the right to publicly perform, reproduce and communicate to the public “a sound recording copyright owner (e.g., a record label), a musical work copyright owner (e.g., a music publisher), a performing rights organization (e.g., ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, etc.) (a “PRO”), a sound recording PRO (e.g., SoundExchange), any unions or guilds, and engineers, producers or other royalty participants involved in the creation of User Content.”
Which allows users to undermine the entirety of the Music Copyright.
It could be useful for TikTok to adopt the same model in which YouTube one of the largest video-sharing platforms in the world.
Where US law allows the reuse of copyright-protected material under certain circumstances.
In the UK people are allowed to use copyrighted material without the copyright owner’s permission if it is for purposes of criticism, review, quotation, parody, caricature and pastiche.
This is done on a case by case basis and when in contention it is up to the Court to decide whether a work has been infringed or used fairly.
However, there is a possible downside to companies restricting TikTok from using copyright and this is exposure as the platform has made some relatively obscure songs or songs that have not gained a following into chart-topping hits that stay at number one and this trend has continued since last year.
This then begs the question, is there any need for labels anymore, with Tik Tok and Spotify becoming the distribute and label all in one!
By Peter Moore/Mark Reed