Social app TikTok is set for a battle with three European collecting societies and their joint venture, via the medium of the UK’s Copyright Tribunal.

That’s the body that resolves copyright-related commercial-licensing disputes in the UK. Copyright Tribunal Ref 132/19 will be of intense interest to the music industry, then.

“Notice is hereby given of a reference to the Copyright Tribunal under section 125 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 by TikTok Inc (Applicant) of 10100 Venice Boulevard, Culver City, California 90232, USA,” it explains, adding that “a dispute has arisen concerning the terms of a licence” between TikTok and collecting societies PRS for Music, STIM and GEMA, as well as ICE, their joint-venture licensing hub.

Specific details of the dispute have not been made public at this time, but other organisations and people “wishing to object to the Applicant’s credentials or wishing to be made party to the proceedings” have been asked to contact the Copyright Tribunal by 16 August.

Music has been a big driver of TikTok’s popularity, as well as for the app that was acquired then merged with it by parent company Bytedance. A number of artists and labels have used the app for marketing campaigns in recent months.

But it’s also no secret that TikTok has been in negotiations with music rightsholders about licensing deals – see these Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg stories from April for more information on that.

Today’s Copyright Tribunal news is separate to that: it’s not about labels, but instead concerns TikTok’s relationship with PROs [performance rights organisations] responsible for collecting royalties for music used on its service.

Update on 24 July: TikTok has issued a statement on the referral. “TikTok is an exciting way for songs and emerging artists to gain exposure and break through with a wide and varied audience. As a platform for unique and original creative content, we place high value and respect upon intellectual property rights, and we work closely with music rights holders to protect a library of sound on the platform which is available for users to infuse in their own short videos,” said its spokesperson.

“As part of this, we have been in active and extended negotiations with ICE. We have asked the UK Copyright Tribunal as a neutral third party to help us reach a reasonable outcome. We look forward to continuing the conversation with ICE and reaching an agreement that furthers the opportunity for artists and songwriters on the platform.”

In a statement sent to Music Ally, ICE confirmed the referral. “The TikTok platform is unlicensed and ICE is disappointed an agreement for use of the millions of musical works belonging to the songwriters, composers and publishers we represent has not been reached before this point,” said its spokesperson.

“Organisations that use and benefit from music must take out a licence in order to do so. We look forward to representing our rightsholders’ interests and securing appropriate value for the vast scale of usage of their repertoire on the platform. Our aim is that by following this legal process TikTok will agree a licence that fairly reflects the value of our rightsholders music.”

The news of the tribunal referral came as Music Ally separately reported that TikTok’s parent company Bytedance has acquired AI-music startup Jukedeck, with the latter’s CEO Ed Newton-Rex now leading the company’s AI Lab.

Photo by Colin Watts on Unsplash

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