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Bang Energy’s TikTok Videos Violated UMG’s Copyrights, Court Rules

Bang Energy says it believed TikTok's licenses gave it permission, but a judge says it doesn't really matter what Bang thought.

Drink maker Bang Energy infringed Universal Music Group’s copyrights when it used songs from Justin Bieber, Dua Lipa and Cardi B and others in more than 100 TikTok ads, a federal judge says, potentially putting the company on the hook for millions in damages.

Bang Energy had argued that it only used the songs because it believed it was legal under TikTok’s blanket licenses with music companies, but U.S. District Judge William P. Dimitrouleas ruled Tuesday that it didn’t really matter what the company intended.

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“Copyright infringement is a strict liability offense, meaning the the copyright owner need not prove any knowledge or intent on the part of the defendant,” the judge wrote. “Accordingly, defendants’ argument that they believed that TikTok gave them a license to use plaintiffs’ copyrighted musical works is, at most, relevant to the issue of damages, not to the issue of liability.”

Both UMG and Sony sued Bang Energy last year for using copyright music in social media posts without permission. The cases highlighted an important distinction: The sweeping music licenses signed by platforms like TikTok and Instagram, which allow users to feature snippets of copyrighted music in their posts, do not apply to commercial content posted by brands.

“The Bang Defendants brag loudly about the billions of views that their videos have received on TikTok, but have been silent since Plaintiffs demanded an explanation for the unauthorized use of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted musical works,” UMG wrote in its complaint.

Bang Energy and owner Jack Owoc argued that it was their “understanding” that TikTok “provides use of these songs, and others, with a license to all of its members.” But as Judge Dimitrouleas wrote on Tuesday, the company didn’t dispute that the songs had been used.

“Both elements of a direct copyright infringement claim having been established based upon the undisputed material facts,” the judge wrote.

In a silver-lining for Bang Energy, Judge Dimitrouleas declined to rule that the company itself was liable for eight infringing videos posted by influencers, leaving that issue open for a potential future trial. He said that UMG had “failed to respond” to Bang Energy’s argument that it didn’t have enough control over influencers to be held liable for their actions.

The ruling sets the stage for potential future proceedings on the influencer issue, as well as decision on how much Bang Energy should pay in damages. Sony’s separate case, meanwhile, is still pending.

Read the full ruling here: