How to avoid licensing headaches and lawsuits

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Photo credit: Rubaitul Azad

Several well-known companies – most recently Bang Energy Drink – have learned through litigation that TikTok’s main general licenses do not extend to businesses. But contrary to popular belief, the abbreviated video-sharing app has a robust trademark licensing process, and the use of music in ads doesn’t have to result in multimillion-dollar lawsuits. . Here’s how brands can clear music and avoid licensing headaches on TikTok.

The following was created in conjunction with Songtradr, as part of a larger partnership focused on the sync licensing space. Be sure to check out our continuing coverage of this growing sector here.

In July, Universal Music Group (UMG) obtained a partial victory in its highly publicized copyright infringement lawsuit against Bang Energy. Before the trial of the case, a judge ruled that Bang had in fact infringed the music of the main label in approximately 140 promotional videos.

Regardless of how the courtroom confrontation unfolds (it remains to be seen whether the energy drink maker will also be held liable for TikTok videos uploaded by influencers), the less-than-ideal situation underscores the limits of TikTok’s blanket licensing. . The agreements exclusively govern user-generated content – ​​not promotional and/or paid clips for brands, which have strong incentives to develop a presence on the platform.

“Now more than ever, TikTok is a highly sought-after type of use,” Great music synchronization Americas leader Alex Menck told Digital Music News. “Some publishers want to know who these influencers are before approving a use of TikTok. They want to know how many followers these influencers have.

Bang Energy, which has expressed a belief that it is covered by TikTok’s major label pacts, is not the first company to face legal action over the use of allegedly unlicensed music on the abbreviated application. (Other Big Three labels are suing Bang over TikTok videos in similar actions.)

Sony Music Entertainment (SME) taken last year a tightly worded suit against Gymshark, a fitness apparel company based in Solihull, England, regarding the entity’s allegedly unauthorized inclusion of copyrighted music in videos on social media platforms, including TikTok.

SME and Gymshark (which was valued to over £1bn in an August 2020 funding round) settled around early 2022. And while the terms of that settlement have not been made public, the stakes are quite high. clear for brands that intend to use music on TikTok.

“There are all kinds of complexities when it comes to TikTok. Not only the fees that publishers and labels charge for these uses, but also for understating the power of these videos,” said Menck, whose company has connected top brands such as TRESemme, Target and suave with existing music well-suited for their TikTok campaigns.

Music can deliver unprecedented impact to brands on TikTok

Besides notable examples of some brands’ marketing success on TikTok, like Ocean Spray’s prominent part in a trend that has helped relaunch Fleetwood Mac’s career – the data demonstrates the impact that carefully curated leads can have on how companies are perceived.

According to a multifaceted study commissioned by TikTok, when brands’ videos feature songs users “like”, 68% of viewers remember the company better, with nearly 60% of users feeling a stronger connection to the company and saying that they are more likely to discuss it (and/or share the clip) as a result.

“Most of the time, TikTok is way bigger than a commercial or a late night show on TV. There are more people watching this little TikTok, watching Reels, looking at their phones and laughing at something ( which is marked in this case) than paying attention to an advertisement in the middle of the lineup,” Menck said.

“Trends move fast on TikTok, and DIY licensing can be slow,” Roscoe Williamson, director of global creative strategy at MassiveMusic told us.

One of the six Certified sound partners added to TikTok’s existing Marketing Partner Program in mid-2021, MassiveMusic creates bespoke songs tailored to brands and marketing objectives, driving engagement with user-generated video trends for campaigns. This way, customers can benefit from leads created with their products — and the preferences of the TikTok community — in mind, avoiding licensing headaches.

“Essentially, licensing on TikTok can be a bit of a minefield – particularly if you’re dealing with a remix, mashup, or track with various samples. Multiple label and music-side rights holders editing may need to be contacted for approval – an often lengthy process,” added Williamson.

Custom songs, Williamson continued, can significantly reduce licensing complexity while still being tailored to brand campaigns and goals; TikTok reported in the previously highlighted study that 65% of TikTokers prefer branded content that features original music. To date, MassiveMusic has focused on fueling viral engagement by creating bespoke tracks for companies such as Shiseido, Lancome, and Happiness.

The risk for brands using music on TikTok – and how it can be overcome

Meanwhile, Big Sync is helping brands find the perfect music for their TikTok campaigns despite the potentially dangerous licensing process — which, largely due to its relative newness, is full of misguided advice and recommendations, according to Menck.

“Brands are fully aware, they know this licensing process is different, they know there has to be a cost associated with it, but often they let the agencies, the creatives, convince them that things could be done in a less complicated and more economical, while achieving the same result,” Menck told DMN.

“Agencies try to paint an accurate picture for brands; sometimes they fall for it, sometimes they call us and say, “Is this real? And we’re like, ‘No, that’s not real,'” he continued, noting that TikTok’s massive size and reach means rights holders will eventually identify (and seek compensation for) even minor instances of unauthorized corporate use of music.

Ultimately, the music industry’s focus on uses of TikTok songs reflects the important role the platform plays today, especially among younger users. For businesses, there’s never been a better time to try to reach consumers through the app, where music drives trends, engagement, content creation and brand awareness.

Now it’s about tailoring ad campaigns to take advantage of TikTok’s vast promotional advantage and simultaneously making sure the music is properly licensed. Expert advice and input can prevent unforeseen obstacles and help achieve desired results.

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