Music publishers crack down on TikTok

Photo courtesy of TikTok TikTok under possible investigation for copyright infringement.

Photo courtesy of TikTok
TikTok under possible investigation for copyright infringement.
Possible copyright investigation against TikTok

While TikTok users have been consuming the wide variety of visual content available on the popular app, Sen. Marco Rubio and the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) have brought attention to censorship and copyrighted audio content respectively. As of Oct. 16, both parties had put forth a call to action for Congress to investigate the app.

Sen. Marco Rubio sparked this chain of events when he addressed US Treasury Secretary Steven Munchkin about his concern over TikTok censoring negative content from the “Chinese government and Communist party directives,” according to Billboard. The website also explained the NMPA’s response in conjunction with Rubio’s actions, specifically from NMPA President and CEO David Israelrite. Israelrite sent a letter to Congress about the organization’s worries over “copyright theft” regarding the music that is used in TikTok videos. 

“From an artist perspective, while I’m not at the level that my music would be generating any substantial income from TikTok,” Alice Desmond, a music business major at CU Denver who produces her own music and is considering going into copyright and entertainment law, said, “it is an open revenue stream that needs to be addressed.”

US copyright law, according to Retail Print Music Dealers Association, protects the work of individuals, including songwriters and publishers. The law prohibits the use of music without payment or permission from the creator and allows those who violate those laws to be fined or imprisoned, depending on the intent of the infringement. 

Desmond commented, “From a legal perspective, I think that TikTok’s best argument will either be for parody or creating a sub-section for synch licensing being that the videos are short and do not use the full song, and the music is tied to an audio/visual platform.”

Applying this legal concept to the TikTok scenario, the NMPA wants Congress to investigate the app’s users who have used music in their videos that is not being properly attributed through the form of payment or licenses to its creator. 

To reduce the number of violations of copyright infringement, some publishers have agreed to give TikTok licenses, but there is still a large chunk of content that isn’t covered, causing legal issues to run rampant through the app that has over a million downloads in the U.S. alone, according to Billboard.

Desmond believes that “It would be hard for independent artists to fight TikTok, especially more well-established indies because of TikTok’s recent partnerships with labels as well as TikTok being a foreign company.” 

A TikTok spokesperson joined the conversation by explaining to Billboard that the app has followed licensing requirements or paid artists and has gone so far as to promote them “through its viral meme culture.” 

Even though there hasn’t been an update regarding Congress’ investigation to the music copyright infringement, Desmond has her own prediction about future events. “I don’t think there will be individual copyright claims by standing copyright owners, but I do think that TikTok will need to re-evaluate how they are paying copyright owners because it’s not really the record label and the performing artist that are hurting, it’s the creators of the songs.”

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