TikTok Lawsuits Target Brands, InfluencersDecember 06, 2022, 08:00 AM
The music industry has begun cracking down on brand owners’ and influencers’ unlicensed use of songs in social media posts through the filing of several lawsuits over the past few months. The lawsuits have largely targeted posts on TikTok, Inc. and should serve as a warning to companies and brands looking to capitalize on the popularity of TikTok as well as other short-form video sharing platforms.
To the average person posting on TikTok, using songs in posts is subject to complicated licensing arrangements.
It is important to note that most creators posting on TikTok can include certain songs in their videos without fearing a lawsuit. TikTok has licensing deals with the three major record labels in the music industry, Warner Music Group Corp., UMG Recordings Inc., and Sony Music Entertainment, which allow ordinary creators to access a vast audio library so long as the use is restricted to “personal, non-commercial use,” according to the TikTok terms of service.
However, when an account belongs to a verified brand, or if an influencer is using TikTok to promote a product, the legal dynamic changes substantially—and can be quite confusing.
Generally, under copyright law, a single song has two different copyrights: one protects the sound recording, the other protects the musical composition, which includes the lyrics and sheet music. However, those copyrights are very often owned by separate entities. Record labels usually own the sound recording, while music publishers represent the songwriters who own the lyrics. So, a brand owner using a song in a social media post for commercial use would need to obtain licenses from both rights holders.
In certain cases, rights organizations can provide “blanket licenses” that cover a multitude of songs without the need to ever seek permission from each individual rights owner. However, when music is combined with video, it evolves into a “sync license” which shifts it back into a realm of individually negotiated licenses with the individual rights owners.
Accordingly, it is important that brand owners, influencers and any creators posting on social media for commercial use seek and obtain proper guidance on any restrictions on use, copyright licenses and sync licensing issues.