Wixen Music Publishing is suing short-form video-sharing app Triller for $50 million alleging copyright infringement on more than 1,000 songs.
Wixen claims that Triller has been “willfully infringing” its musical compositions by allowing its users to include them in videos without authorization or compensation, according to the 15-page federal complaint filed U.S. Central District of California Western Division on Tuesday.
Triller’s app, similar to TikTok's, allows users to create and share short videos that typically include music. Wixen, who administers more than 50,000 songs written and owned by its more than 2,000 clients -- Tom Petty, Neil Young and Missy Elliott among them -- alleges that many of their compositions are being used in the app without the proper licenses.
Triller has “brazenly disregarded copyright law and committed willful and ongoing copyright infringement,” states the complaint. Triller is “well aware that it needs to negotiate licenses with Wixen and other publishers” to use those works, but has failed to do so, states the lawsuit.
The complaint continues: “Instead of paying Wixen and the songwriters Wixen represents to use their Works, Triller pays ‘social influencers’ substantial sums of money and provides them with Rolls Royces, mansions (with housekeeping), weekly sushi dinners at Nobu, and, in at least one instance, a helicopter.”
After David Israelite, president and CEO of the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA), a trade group to which Wixen belongs, criticized Triller in July about its need to legitimize fully license NMPA members’ songs, Wixen’s complaint says the company was initially encouraged when Triller’s CEO appeared to agree. But when no agreement was reached, Wixen filed this lawsuit.
“Triller could have reached out and negotiated with Wixen to obtain the necessary licenses, as its CEO promised,” states the complaint. “Instead, it chose to brazenly disregard copyright law and commit willful and ongoing copyright infringement. Among the evidence of Triller’s willfulness is that it continued to use, copy, and exploit the Works even after Wixen notified Triller that it had not obtained the proper licenses for the use of the Works.”
“We tried to engage with them, but nothing they said or did convinced us that they were serious about rectifying their infringements," Wixen founder Randall Wixen tells Billboard via email. "At one point they told us that fewer than five of our clients’ songs were on their service, and we had already found hundreds of them. How could they not know what songs were on their own platform or who controlled those songs? If they didn’t know that, they shouldn’t have been on Triller in the first place."
Triller’s CEO Mike Lu though firmly disputes those allegations calling Wixen “an ambulance chasing company set up purely to shake down people and companies” in a statement to Billboard.
“Triller has already pulled down the two songs in question which were put up by users, not Triller,” says Lu in the statement. “This is nothing but a baseless shakedown and it won’t work. We look forward to our day in court where hopefully we can stop them from doing this to others who may not have the resources to fight them and give in to their extortionist demands. Instead of taking the easy route and paying their extortion we are fighting this for all those who cannot afford to do so, to help stop these things from happening in our business. It ends here and stops now."
Wixen is demanding a jury trial and seeking the maximum statutory relief it says it is entitled to of $150,000 per work infringed, for the sum of at least $50.4 million.
To date, Triller has raised $37.5 million, according to Crunchbase, including a $28 million series B round last year to fuel growth aimed at overtaking TikTok. Snoop Dogg, The Weekend, Marshmello and Lil Wayne are all promoted as investors, and it has licensing deals in place with the big three major labels, Universal Music Group, Sony Music and Warner Music Group. In early August the app reported 65 million monthly active users and then in September said it had reached the 100 million milestone -- but that figure was contested by former employees, claiming the company had inflated its reach. It has also grown significantly in India, where TikTok and other Chinese-owned apps are banned.
In January 2018, Wixen filed a $1.6 billion lawsuit against Spotify ahead of the company's initial public offering, alleging the use of tens of thousands of songs without a license and compensation. In December 2018, that lawsuit was privately settled.