TikTok, the app which allows users to create short videos, has become an internet phenomenon since its global launch in 2018.
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But the platform raises concerns of intellectual property protection, specifically copyright infringements.
Intellectual property is instrumental to the TikTok app experience, especially copyrights owned by music creators and labels.
Copyrights provide protection against online piracy, which occurs when a copyrighted work is reproduced, distributed, performed, publicly displayed, or made into a derivative work without the consent of the copyright owner.
In today’s digital world, doing any of these is fast and easy.
What is TikTok?
It is fair to say that, by now, we have all heard about TikTok.
The user-generated short-form video app presents fun videos: dance, tricks, pranks, and other types of entertainment that users can swipe through.
On TikTok, anybody can become a content creator thanks to free and easy-to-use tools for editing, adding music, filters, stickers, and effects (such as duets and green screen).
In 2020, the app reached a milestone of being downloaded more than 2 billion times globally.
In 2021 the company announced more than 1 billion monthly users.
What is copyright protection?
Before we dive into copyrights on TikTok videos, it is important to understand what copyright protection is and how it is relevant to TikTok users.
Copyright is a form of intellectual property that protects original works of authorship that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression.
Some examples of works that can gain copyright protection include books, articles, poems, movies, music, recordings, paintings, illustrations, sculptures, logo designs, website content, computer software, and architecture.
On the other hand, ideas, methods, and systems cannot be copyrighted.
Copyrights grant the owner, whether a person or entity, exclusive rights in the work.
Copyright ownership also allows owners to authorize others to exercise their IP rights.
What are copyrights on TikTok?
TikTok is exploding with content that can gain copyright protection.
Almost all of the components of TikTok short videos are protected by copyright. The short dance videos and dances that the app is known for are subject to copyright protection.
So are the music, sounds, photos, and movie clips in the videos that can have their own copyright protection. In other words, to use these, the content creators should have the permission of the copyright owner.
So if you uploaded creative video with an original dance to the music of a song, most parts of the video can be your intellectual property but not the song.
In this case, assuming the copyright owners did not authorize (license) the use of their music, it can constitute copyright infringement.
In case, like many others, you replicated a video uploaded by another user, it may infringe on this user’s intellectual property (as well as on the rights of others, if the video infringed on somebody else’s intellectual property rights).
Copyright protection grants owners exclusive rights, including the ability to limit unauthorized use of their copyrighted work.
This means they can potentially prohibit users from displaying or performing their copyrighted content.
Music on TikTok
Music is a crucial part of the TikTok user experience.
How to secure permission to use music on the app and pay royalties for such use is an essential question.
Possible copyright issues have resulted in concerns in the music industry.
It was estimated that 50 percent of the music featured in TikTok videos is unlicensed, although this may be changing with TikTok securing licensing agreements.
At the beginning of 2020, TikTok signed a licensing deal with Merlin, a global agency representing music labels and artists.
Later in 2020, it finalized another major licensing agreement, this time with Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group, and in 2021 it secured a deal with Universal Music Group.
It also signed with Europe-based Believe, ICE Services (a pan-European hub for music licensing), and Buma/Stemra.
The agreements allow TikTok users to use songs from licensed labels and artists.
In turn, the app’s popularity generates an increased incentive for the music industry to be represented on TikTok.
The 2021 Music Report for the U.S. declares that about 430 songs surpassed 1 billion video views as TikTok sounds in 2021.
Viral TikTok videos can drive songs and music tracks to the top of the charts and create hits (Over 175 songs that trended on the app last year charted on the Billboard Hot 100).
TikTok can help make music stars and be great for songwriters, composers, choreographers, and artists of all types.
How to use music on TikTok?
TikTok has an audio library, and everything offered there is pre-cleared and licensed by the app.
Verified businesses can access the Commercial Music Library, which offers royalty-free music and sound effects.
A dedicated library means they do not have to obtain licenses on their own, but they also cannot use the same music library as regular users.
Music from the library has no copyright concerns, and users should never worry about takedown requests.
But users can also add their music of choice that is not part of the TikTok’s audio library. When this happens, users must be aware of possible copyright violations.
When copyright infringements occur, there is also the question of the platform’s liability.
Does fair use apply to TikTok?
The app may be protected from liability for copyright violations under the Fair Use Doctrine in the U.S. and fair dealings in the E.U. or other exceptions in laws and doctrines in other countries.
Fair use is determined on a case-by-case basis, so there is no definitive answer to the question of whether TikTok is protected by fair use.
The doctrine allows certain unlicensed uses of copyright-protected works for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, parody, and more, depending on the country.
In legal battles, courts look at the purpose and character of the use. They examine how the content is used, such as whether for commercial or educational purposes and the nature of the copyrighted work.
They also take other factors into consideration, including if the content created is “transformative”, the amount used of the copyrighted work as a whole, and the effect of such use on the value of the copyrighted work.
Like other social media platforms, TikTok has increasingly become more commercial.
The music and especially songs users upload to the app often have strong copyright protection due to their high creativity, and although short videos do not use a substantial portion of the songs, it is often the most significant parts that are at the heart of the creation, as the chorus of a song.
As for the value, the question is whether the TikTok use has a positive impact on the market and benefits the income of copyright holders.
What is TikTok’s intellectual property policy?
The social media platform’s efforts to protect intellectual property are reflected in its Intellectual Property Removal Report.
The report refers to copyright infringements but also to trademark violations, ads that infringe on trademarks and copyrights, and reposting copyrighted content that belongs to another user.
TikTok’s Intellectual Property Policy prohibits “posting, sharing, or sending any content that violates or infringes someone else’s copyrights, trademarks or other intellectual property rights.”
It does not allow to use the copyrighted content of third parties without their authorization or a legally valid reason. Valid take-down requests are evaluated and the infringing content removed.
Now let’s move on to some practical take-down advice.
How to eliminate copyright infringements on TikTok?
TikTok’s policy has a process for the takedown of copyright infringing content.
Also, multiple copyright violations can result in an account being suspended or eliminated.
To take down copyright infringements, you can report the violation to TikTok.
Copyright take-down requests are based on copyright laws and should include the elements required in the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), the EU Copyright Directive, or other similar laws that have requirements for what constitutes a copyright infringement.
What are the steps to report copyright infringement to TikTok?
- Open the copyright infringement form
- Enter your information (name, address, phone number, email)
- Provide proof of your ownership
- Provide details about the infringed content
- Sign and send the form
The Copyright Act grants copyright owners either actual damages or statutory damages (meaning damages which have a range awarded by statute, in this case, the Copyright Act).
The compensation amount is then set per work rather than for losses and is awarded even if the IP owner did not suffer any actual damages.
Wiser Market – Anti-Piracy Protection
Online IP protection should not overlook TikTok in terms of copyright infringement, counterfeit detection and IP rights enforcement (see more at: Are fakes a trend on TikTok?)
Waiting for social media platforms to detect and take down copyright-infringing content is simply not enough.
The Wiser Market Anti-Piracy Protection Platform can help you combat digital piracy and protect your brand.
Wiser Market anti-piracy protection helps you combat intellectual property infringements with tools that work and a team of experts that stay on top of a fast-changing landscape of e-commerce features and trends.
For continuous scanning and detection, we employ cutting-edge technology.
Our monitoring system continuously scans digital channels, detecting relevant references to your brand and analyzing them.
Our team implements unique e-commerce and brand protection know-how to ensure each infringement is categorized and removed quickly and efficiently.
Wiser Market’s highly effective, long-term online brand protection strategy safeguards your online revenue and brand reputation, with a success rate of over 95%.
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WiserTip: TikTok is the international version of Douyin (抖音), but the users and content on TikTok and Douyin are different. Brands should therefore monitor both versions of the app.
What content can be removed from TikTok?
TikTok will remove content if it violates its Community Guidelines, including content that infringes someone else’s copyrights, trademarks, or other intellectual property rights. See: https://www.tiktok.com/community-guidelines
What is the maximum time for a TikTok video?
TikTok was created for short-form videos. Last year, it increased the maximum time for a video to 3 minutes. In March 2022, it expanded the max to 10 minutes.
Is it legal to use songs in my TikToks?
Yes, it is legal to use songs in your TikToks as long as you take them from the app’s audio library.
If you use other sounds, make sure you have the authorization to do so.
Can I add my own music to my TikToks?
Yes, if it is your original music.
No, if it is someone else’s song that is not on the TikTok Audio Library and you have no specific authorization.
Who owns my TikTok video?
If you’ve created it, you own it. However, TikTok’s End-User License Agreement gives TikTok some rights in your content, such as the right to distribute and share it.