These are heady yet risky times for social app TikTok. Its downloads and usage continue to grow sharply, fuelled by a big-budget, long-term marketing campaign. It’s increasingly feted by brands and marketing teams within the creative industries, yet is also under pressure from the legal teams within music rightsholders, as well as collecting societies, over its licensing responsibilities. Its popularity among children continues to rouse the interest of regulators and privacy campaigners, and most recently its approach to content censorship is drawing heat from politicians and free-speech advocates too.
It’s no surprise that there are plenty of news stories bubbling around TikTok at this point in time, then. Start with Rolling Stone’s piece on the recent problems around songs with explicit lyrics, with labels reporting upload issues and takedowns with sweary tracks. TikTok says it was error, not policy. “Due to an internal error, we inadvertently restricted explicit tracks from TikTok globally,” its spokesperson told Rolling Stone. “We immediately noticed the error and began working to roll back the implementation, and while much of the fix was able to take effect right away, we were finally able to notify labels of the full restoration of affected tracks last week.”
Also new: musician, artist-rights activist and university lecturer David Lowery is investigating TikTok’s licensing approach, and specifically checking his own catalogue (from bands Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven) on TikTok. “Both recordings and compositions that I directly control were available on the service. As far as I know, these recordings and compositions have not been licensed,” wrote Lowery, who went on to question how, if his music is available on TikTok but doesn’t appear to have been uploaded by users, it can qualify for protection as ‘user-generated content’. Lowery famously led a class-action lawsuit against Spotify over unlicensed music, but that isn’t his plan now with TikTok. “To be clear. I have no plans to file any copyright lawsuit against TikTok. I’ll let someone else do that. I’ve graduated from that league. I’m much more interested in working with law enforcement.”
Elsewhere, mainstream-media outlets are continuing to explore TikTok’s culture, and its usage among young people. The New York Times recently hired journalist Taylor Lorenz, who’s been one of the best reporters on social culture and new platforms, and her piece on TikTok’s growth in US high-schools is well worth reading. “In many of the videos on the app, which are 15 seconds to a minute long, school hallways, classrooms and courtyards serve as a recurrent backdrop. And if kids aren’t filming themselves at school, they’re making jokes about school,” she wrote. Some schools are even encouraging students to express their creativity with TikTok, with contests and other integrations of the app into lessons.
Finally (for today, anyway) there’s some educational TikTok news from another part of the world – India. TikTok is launching what TechCrunch describes as an ‘education program’ there with videos that “ cover a range of topics, from school-level science and math concepts to learning new languages” as well as “tips on health and mental awareness, and motivational talks”. Educational-tech startups Vedantu, Toppr, Made Easy and Gradeup are the content partners for the initiative, which TikTok hopes will get Indian regulators back on its side, after recent criticism of the app. TikTok is quoted as claiming that more than 10m educational videos have generated 48bn views on its platform ‘in recent months’ alone. That news came as TikTok’s parent company Bytedance hired a new boss in India, Nikhil Gandhi, who was formerly president and COO at media group Times Network.
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