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TikTok: The New Kid on the IP Block

From Ratatouille musicals and viral dances to investment tips and true crime stories, TikTok has something for everyone. It has become one of the fastest growing apps on the market, thanks to its algorithmic ‘For You Page’, a home page for users tailored to their likes and dislikes. However, the platform’s steep rise in popularity has not been without concerns, particularly those surrounding intellectual property.

For anyone spending lockdown under a rock (and to be honest who could blame you), TikTok is a social networking app that allows users to watch, create and share videos that are less than 60 seconds long. Initially launched in China in 2016, and then globally in 2018, the site now has over 1 billion monthly users worldwide. The platform has proved itself to be a lifeline for the hundreds of thousands of people stuck inside over the last year. A recent UK survey, conducted by Ofcom, found that by April 2020, 2 in 5 adults were uploading their own video content. The app has also been credited with the success of many new artists, such as Nathan Evans, a Scottish Postman turned viral signing sensation.

So, what is the problem?

Unfortunately, TikTok has seen a significant rise in intellectual property infringement and takedown notices on the site. Not only have counterfeiters found a way to promote and sell fake goods through their content, but innocent users are also unwittingly posting videos featuring protected songs and dances.

Since its inception TikTok has faced questions regarding the legalities of the music used across its platform. A key part of the TikTok experience is selecting a hit track to go alongside an eye catching video. However, users must choose a song from TikTok’s library of music to ensure that they avoid infringing an artist’s copyright. TikTok’s parent company, Bytedance, has attempted to secure licencing from major music labels, but this has not made all music fair game for use. If users choose to upload a song not included in the licenced library, they may find themselves faced with legal action. If they make too many accidental IP infringements, their user’s account may be shut down for good.

Users must also be aware of protecting their own content on the site. Many talented creators use the site to upload their own original music. This audio can then be turned into a ‘sound’ that can be used freely by anyone on the platform. This means that in many cases the original creator is unable to claim the popularity and credit that comes from a viral sound.

Why is this happening?

It is very easy to become a TikTok creator; all a user needs is a device with an internet connection and a camera. This means that anyone can post a video. Additionally, there are limited steps in the actual uploading of the video. The users are never asked to confirm that they understand the copyright implications of their creation nor that they have actually created the content themselves. While TikTok does provide clear and thorough explanations of intellectual property, these are hidden behind several steps on the app. Additionally, due to the sheer number of videos on the site, policing every uploaded video is impossible. Many videos slip past TikTok regulations and are only caught if other app users report it.

Many are calling for TikTok to do more to prevent copyright infringement and to educate their users. In December of 2020, it was announced that TikTok would be introducing MediaMatch, a feature designed for rights holders in particular record labels. The idea behind it is to give greater power to rights holders and allow them to control how their property is used and distributed across the app. However, there has been little sign of this being implemented to date and with numbers rising rapidly they are facing an uphill battle.

TikTok is the new kid on the video-streaming block but copyright infringement isn’t a new problem. For example, YouTube has been tackling it for over a decade and still faces backlash. Finding the balance between allowing users the freedom to create while still protecting original artists will be tricky, especially as popular music is at the core of what TikTok does. And it’s exactly that component which is keeping us all sane!

SnapDragon Monitoring helps businesses to defend themselves against intellectual property infringement online. Get in touch to find out how we can help you.


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