TikTok is currently under intense scrutiny in the US over its recently-revealed censorship policies, with prominent senator Marco Rubio having called for a formal investigation into the company. Now the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA) has backed that call, while suggesting that TikTok’s approach to music copyright should also be within the scope of any such investigation.
“In addition to important censorship concerns, it appears that TikTok has consistently violated U.S. copyright law and the rights of songwriters and music publishers. Many videos uploaded to TikTok incorporate musical works that have not been licensed and for which copyright owners are not being paid,” claimed the NMPA, in a letter sent to Rubio and shared with the media.
“While some publishers have been able to negotiate with TikTok to license their catalogs, a large part of our industry does not have agreements in place meaning numerous works continue to be used unlawfully as the platform’s popularity grows exponentially.” The letter also referred to claims that TikTok has been downloaded more than 1bn times. “It is deeply concerning to our industry that a company so large which has a model that fundamentally integrates musical works can get away with not lawfully compensating copyright owners.”
For its part, TikTok has responded with a statement focusing on those licensing deals so far. “TikTok has broad licensing coverage across the music publishing industry covering many thousands of publishers and songwriters and millions of copyrights, and has paid royalties since its inception,” said its statement shared with Billboard. “The platform has spurred the success of artists and songwriters worldwide through its viral meme culture, driving chart hits and building household names. We are proud to engage with and support the music community.”
The NMPA’s pressure comes on top of a copyright dispute in the UK between TikTok and Ice, the joint venture of collecting societies PRS for Music, GEMA and STIM. Music Ally broke the news in July that TikTok had referred Ice and the societies to the UK’s copyright tribunal, after licensing negotiations reached an impasse. The concern for TikTok in the US will be the way copyright complaints could piggyback on the censorship concerns to rouse the investigative fervour of politicians and regulators.
Negotiations for more TikTok deals and global agreements for parent company Bytedance’s upcoming streaming service continue, but friction with the likes of the NMPA and Ice make the backdrop for those talks that much more spicy.