In Rubio's letter -- apparently inspired by media reports claiming TikTok moderators are instructed to censor videos that are critical of the Chinese government -- the senator cited “ample and growing evidence” that TikTok was “censoring content that is not in line with the Chinese government and Communist party directives” in Western markets, including the U.S. ByteDance bought the popular karaoke app Musical.ly in 2017 and folded it into TikTok the following year, greatly increasing TikTok's presence in Europe and North America.
“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,” the NMPA letter continues. “Many videos uploaded to TikTok incorporate musical works that have not been licensed and for which copyright owners are not being paid.”
The letter goes on to note that while several publishers have negotiated licensing deals with TikTok for their catalogs, a “large part” of the industry does not have agreements in place, “meaning numerous works continue to be used unlawfully as the platform’s popularity grows exponentially.”
According to recent figures from Sensor Tower, TikTok hit 1 billion downloads worldwide in February, 100 million of which were in the U.S.
In response to the NMPA letter, a TikTok spokesperson sent the following statement to Billboard: "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. 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."
While TikTok bills itself as a video-sharing app rather than a music service, music has become a key component of its brand -- particularly as the platform has lately driven the success of a number of tracks. Most notable of thosee being Lil Nas X’s Billboard Hot 100 record-breaker “Old Town Road,” which originally caught fire as a TikTok meme.