The Copyright Coup of Tik Tok

Anthony Carbonetta
6 min readDec 16, 2019


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The world of social media has absolutely exploded over the past ten years and has proven to be a disposable and malleable form of content. We have gone from MySpace to Facebook, all the way down the pipeline to stranger approaches like Tinder and Venmo. One trend seems apparent about the growth of these sites however, and that is the appeal to younger audiences. Enter Tik Tok, the performing platform where seemingly all teenagers and young adults flock to share 15 second videos of them singing and dancing over their favorite pop radio jams or creating short skits with friends. Tik Tok is produced by Beijing-based media company known as ByteDance. Their incentive to make Tik Tok the worldwide phenomenon it has become was to combine the already-popular app with Tik Tok to create one site to reflect, as the company itself puts it, “the breadth of content created on our platform that extends beyond music to comedy, performance art and more” (Schwendel).

A large aspect of how Tik Tok prospers in the social media market is by using voice-overs or re-dubbings of movie scenes or popular music to garner attraction to a user’s content. The trend seems to be that upbeat pop music as well as instructional music like learning a new dance or ‘challenge’ rise to prominence as the call to react spreads across cell phones like wildfire. The interface is easy enough to navigate, similarly to Instagram and Vine, large videos appear on the home screen and users can scroll through to indulge the content they choose by simply tapping the video. The content is always right in your face; no links, or statuses, just large windows into young audiences bouncing around their bedrooms listening to anything from Ariana Grande to Lil Nas X.

One glaring question arising from the expansion of this platform is that of copyright distribution. If one of the central facets of the platform thrives on young people chanting along with their favorite anthems, does Tik-Tok have the right to let them? Does Tik Tok necessarily need the rights? Are Tik Tok and its users protected by ‘fair use’ copyright laws in the United States? Many of the clips used on Tik Tok are promoted and licensed by the artist’s record labels, but what if they are not? One prominent feature of the app is that users can record audio, which can open up all of the floodgates. One such controversy came when a user by the name of Cheyanne Hays recorded the audio of hip-hop duo, iLOVEFRiDAY’s song, “Mia Khalifa” from an outside source that had nothing to do with the app. The video became viral and endless proclaimed Tik Tok stars began using the audio file, despite it not being licensed by the platform. From the time of this article, the audio clip of their song has been used in well over 4 million Tik Toks. As for iLOVEFRiDAY’s response to the generation of views, they have not tried to sue or have their song removed from the platform.

Instead, what seems to be the common course of action for artists who find their music raking in endless reposts and views on Tik Tok is to try working out a deal with the Chinese based company to support the artists so both can thrive in their respective fields. Most artists make no revenue from their Tik Tok virality, but the exposure draws attention to their upcoming singles and tour dates. Tik Tok has even offered promotion for artists willing to have a working partnership with their music. One half of iLOVEFRiDAY, Xeno Carr has mentioned “the relationship with Tik Tok is more important than asking them to pay me for a record” in the new pliable age of the music industry. He continues, stating “it’s giving us exposure, and that’s what we need to push the brand forward”, implying that an elevating social media service can do more for their music’s success and public status than trying to make any extra revenue from removing it.

Tik Tok’s relationship with artists and users alike depicts a win for all involved; artists gain attraction to their product and notoriety to their brand image, the company keeps revenue flowing from the millions of users that interact with the app daily, and the fans get to sing along and create clips for people across the world to discover and enjoy. Although they have achieved this massive success so far, many sites across the internet still find themselves wrapped up in disputes over copyright laws with artists and fair use rights for creators. YouTube seems to be the biggest culprit of this dilemma in 2019, as they have been “paying big blanket licensing fees to the recording industry, which still ultimately has control over what intellectual property is allowed to stream on the site” (Gold). Although YouTube has partnerships with “music-video entities like VEVO, artists such as Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and Eminem are making millions from their millions of views” who can draw plenty of revenue on new hits, up-and-coming artists still see TikTok as a more efficient way to blow up in popularity overnight (Gold).

A larger issue for YouTube arises for content creators, however, as the platform’s stances on copyright claims are as explicit and strict as they come. While Tik Tok allows users to take unlicensed clips and have their content protected by fair use, “creators on YouTube have increasingly struggled with record labels claiming copyright on their videos when snippets of music appear momentarily in the background, like from the radio of a car passing by” (Kastrenakes). Although YouTube is making efforts to improve their algorithm lately, none of their attempts have reached the win-win success that Tik Tok has when building the bridges between record labels and the masses. The issues of copyright distribution has led to so much demonetization that streamers and creators have resorted to creative ‘loopholes’ to keep their copyright strikes at bay. One creator known as “The Apekz sings ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen in an attempt to ensure his video about Kingdom Hearts 3, which includes the song, doesn’t get demonetized” and has faced no penalties for his rendition sung over the original (Alexander).

The emergence of Tik Tok has taken the world by storm and corporate America has definitely taken notice. With more and more content creators growing fed up with streaming platforms like YouTube cutting off their revenue and removing their content, sites like Tik Tok are only profiting, as they have taken a more user-considerate approach. Tik Tok is willing to sign with companies allowing and advocating for a citizen’s right to fair use over YouTube’s current handle on copyright. Tik Tok’s approach gives more power to the creators, which is what all social media apps stem from and must abide by to be successful. YouTube did not become the smash sensation that it is because of celebrities and corporate figures, instead it gives creative liberties to those who wish to share their content with the world.

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Copyright claims are a large issue on both sides of the proverbial coin but in the age of ‘viral marketing’ and overnight sensations, there are solutions to keep everyone paid and happy as Tik Tok has illustrated over the past year. Fair use claims have become abundant lately on YouTube and creators have taken a variety of approaches to keep their content on the website. As Tik Tok continues its dominance over the market, all social media platforms ought to become more friendly and familiar with their copyright laws in order to keep their influx of user content generating.

Works Cited

Alexander, Julia. “YouTube Creators Are Using a Hilarious Tactic to Combat Copyright Policies.” The Verge, The Verge, 17 Mar. 2019.

Cooper, Duncan. “How TikTok Gets Rich While Paying Artists Pennies.” Pitchfork, Pitchfork, 12 Feb. 2019.

Gold, Adam. “The Music Industry Is Dead. Long Live the Music Industry 2.0.” Nashville Scene, 25 Aug. 2011

Kastrenakes, Jacob. “YouTube Is Changing How Some Copyright Claims Work, and It Could Result in ‘More Blocked Content.’” The Verge, The Verge, 15 Aug. 2019.

Schwedel, Heather. “A Guide to TikTok for Anyone Who Isn’t a Teen.” Slate Magazine, Slate, 4 Sept. 2018.