| 15 Jun 2024
Tik-Tok threatened by music companies for copyright issues

MUMBAI: Tik Tok, the most used social media app all across the world. Recently Tik-Tok has been threatened to sue for copyright issues by different music publishing companies including, Universal.

Millions of people including the celebrities, singers, models, actors uploads short clips of themselves on the app, TikTok, often lip-syncing to music and creating laughter. Some music used in Tik Tok videos does not have adequate licenses said by some music right-holders. These rights-holders are now prepared to wage a legal battle with the Beijing-based company, according to four people familiar with the matter.

David Israelite, chief executive of the National Music Publishers Association, the industry trade body, told the Financial Times that a lawsuit was a “likely future step” as he estimated that more than 50 percent of the music publishing market was unlicensed with TikTok.

Universal Music has been in licensing negotiations with TikTok for the past year as the world’s largest music company looks to extract more money from the social media app. However, Universal Music’s publishing arm still does not have any licensing agreement in place with TikTok. This means that Universal’s songwriters, which include Billie Eilish, Lady Gaga, Elton John and Taylor Swift, do not get paid royalties when their songs are inserted into TikTok videos.

The rift comes as TikTok’s influence in music has become more prominent after the smash hit “Old Town Road” emerged from the short-form video app last year. TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, has been valued at $75bn and is reportedly planning to go public. ByteDance’s investors include SoftBank and Sequoia Capital.

Universal Music Publishing is seeking payment for lost royalties in any licensing deal and has given TikTok a deadline of this weekend to respond to their latest proposal, according to people familiar with the matter. Universal is weighing legal action if TikTok does not respond, these people added.

“This level of blatant infringement is something that is rarely seen at this scale by a large multinational company. We feel that we’ve exhausted those [negotiation] efforts. As a last resort, we turn to litigation” said one person close to the talks, likening TikTok’s actions to that of Napster.

“We are proud to support the music industry with the thousands of licenses that we have in place. The details of any agreements or discussions between TikTok and our partners are confidential” a TikTok spokesperson said.

According to the report, the NMPA, which represents music publishers and songwriters in the US, has previously sued companies including Peloton, Spotify and YouTube, often winning settlement money. Spotify in 2016 agreed to pay about $30m for unpaid royalties to songwriters. Earlier this year Peloton settled with the NMPA for an undisclosed amount of money.

In the music business, copyrights are dealt with separately on the recorded music side, which represents the actual tracks, and the publishing side, which covers the songwriting.

Billboard, the trade magazine, on Wednesday reported that TikTok had struck short-term licensing deals with the major record labels: Universal, Sony, and Warner. 

However, Universal Music’s agreement with TikTok, which covers the recorded side of its music, only covers a fraction of its catalog and expires soon, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Online streaming has revived the music business, funneling billions back to the big music labels. These companies fiercely protect their share of the streaming riches through high stakes licensing negotiations with Spotify, Apple, Google, and others.

ByteDance is separately in talks with the music companies to include their songs in a paid music streaming service, called Resso, which the company has launched in India and eventually wants to expand to the US and other territories, according to the report.