TikTok Turns to Copyright Tribunal In Licensing Dispute With Collecting Societies

Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images
TikTok

LONDON -- Video-sharing app TikTok has applied to the British courts in an attempt to resolve one of several licensing battles it is currently engaged in.

In this instance, TikTok Inc (registered as being based in Culver City, Calif.) has asked the U.K. Copyright Tribunal to intervene in its ongoing dispute over licensing terms with ICE, the joint venture pan-European online rights hub, operated by collection societies PRS for Music (U.K.), STIM (Sweden) and GEMA (Germany).

The referral was made earlier this month and listed on the website of the Copyright Tribunal -- an independent body set up specifically to resolve commercial licensing disputes -- July 19. Organizations or individuals who object or wish to be made party to the proceedings have until Aug 16 to notify the tribunal.

A spokesperson for TikTok confirmed the platform has been in "active and extended negotiations with ICE" over its licensing terms, but that it had been unable to reach a deal. As such, it has asked the Copyright Tribunal to act "as a neutral third party to help us reach a reasonable outcome."   

ICE hit back by saying TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance Ltd, is an unlicensed music platform and that it was "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."

ICE's statement reiterates its stance that organizations that "use and benefit from music must take out a licence" and that it was looking "forward to representing our rights holders' 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 rights holders music," said ICE.

TikTok's escalating row with the European rights hub comes as it tries to negotiate new license deals with labels and publishers. Until recently, TikTok used license deals that were grandfathered in when it acquired the start-up Musical.ly in late 2017, but according to industry sources those deals have all now expired and the company is using music under short-term extensions.

TikTok, which launched in 2016 in China as Douyin and then under its current name in Japan and South Korea the following year, has been downloaded more than 1 billion times -- and over 100 million times in the United States -- according to analytics company Sensor Tower.

Although it is not billed as a music service, TikTok has quickly become a powerful promotional vehicle for artists and labels with many of its most popular videos involving singing, lip-syncing or dancing to popular songs. The app is credited with helping propel Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 via a series of viral dance challenges and memes. 

It also played an important role in breaking Japanese singer-songwriter Joji in the U.S through a "Microwave Challenge" that involved TikTok users filming themselves spinning on an invisible tray, timed to a "ding" in his track "Slow Dancing in the Dark."


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