Brands, Be Careful Before You Launch Your Next TikTok Campaign

The Chinese-owned social network TikTok has become a center––if not the center––for music discovery. It’s now a hub where new artists have a chance to be seen by millions (including major record labels), and established artists can thrive while also connecting with their fans in more personalized ways.

And just like Billboard, TikTok has charts to track the success of recording artists on its platform. Just this week, Lizzo was named TikTok’s top trending artist of the year.

TikTok blossomed via users posting dances to popular songs, which, alongside the user-generated videos, spread like wildfire––randomly and incredibly fast. Such a thriving music scene (as well as one billion monthly users) would obviously attract brands,  who would obviously choose to use content native to the platform, like dancing to massively popular pop songs.

Less obvious, perhaps, is the concept of licensing music. While most users and creators include pop songs in their videos without worrying about being sued, TikTok has provided them with an audio library of over 500,000 songs via its established licensing deals with major labels Warner Music, UMG, and Sony.

When an account belongs to a verified brand, or an influencer is using the platform to promote a product, the legal implications shift.

Bloomberg Law made this point very clear in its recent story about music lawsuits for TikTok content, citing the energy drink brand Bang, which saw success in its TikTok influencer advertising campaigns but was sued by the Big Three music labels mentioned above after disregarding licensing for music used in over 100 of its videos.

The labels won two out of three cases, with the third case paused after Bang filed for bankruptcy.

In some cases, the legal implications are still somewhat hazy for licensing music on TikTok. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell how liable a brand is for an influencer it hires to rep their products while using unlicensed music. It’s also difficult to categorize influencers who are making money indirectly from the platform itself while making a non-sponsored product tutorial.

Other issues include the various types of copyrights a song has, how many co-writers there are, and what happens when video is introduced (a lot, and according to Bloomberg, it’s based on “individually negotiated and bargained-for licenses”).

TikTok’s yearly earnings are estimated to spike from $4 billion last year to $12 billion in 2022. Its overall popularity has music labels demanding more from the short-form video platform. Labels want TikTok to share that revenue, compensating them with a cut of advertising sales based on the number of plays their artists get.

But according to TikTok, the platform is a “promotional tool” unlike Spotify or YouTube, and doesn’t need to pay labels more.

As TikTok continues to grow and become more powerful (Dolly Parton just joined the platform this week, for example), the company may decide to cut out recording labels entirely. It has already launched “SoundOn,” which allows artists to upload their music directly to the platform and earn royalties when their songs are played, though it’s hard to tell how popular this feature will be.

The bottom line is that while labels are still in the picture, brands should remember to be cautious when beginning a new TikTok campaign.

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