The musical meme generator that is TikTok, has swept the social media generation into a new ‘Vine-like’ era of lip-syncing comedy. From its humble meme beginning, the Multi-billion dollar platform is now used by a diverse range of creative videographers, from bakers and DIY-ers, to dancers and athletes. But social media influencers beware – do you know the hidden law suits that potentially await you?
Making money out of memes
TikTok is a platform for sharing short video clips with an audio track. The app is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company. In 2017, ByteDance purchased Musical.ly (a similar lip-syncing app) for $1billion and absorbed its users into the TikTok platform. TikTok is now estimated to be valued at over $75billion.
TikTok’s algorithm allows viewers to go deep down the rabbit hole of hashtags. Some users spend hours flicking through the endless videos, that have the power to make ordinary teenagers become overnight memelords or dancing queens. The app is currently estimated to be worth three times as much as Spotify and provides a new, fast-paced platform for making money.
There are a few different ways TikTok can be profitable:
- viral royalty (becoming a big name in the meme-universe has its benefits);
- short video advertisements (newly introduced short ads, like those already found on Facebook);
- brand takeovers (take over the app for a day with your own launch screen);
- hashtag challenges (like the challenges found on Instagram, you can entice users to promote your product);
- sponsored video lenses (think Snapchat lenses, but on a viral meme).
Some of the biggest social media influencers today can attribute their ‘industry breakthrough’ to the viral video inducing app. One such user is Jacob Sartorius, who currently has 19.9 million followers on TikTok. Another, is user Baby Ariel, named in Forbes’ top influencer list in 2017 and with a current follower tally of 29.8 million people.
Of course, being considered social media royalty opens users up to a whole world of business opportunities, such as record and acting deals, merchandising, promotional ‘shout outs’ on other platforms, and an invaluable new brand name, which could be used to launch just about any type of career you like.
While the prospect of becoming TikTok famous may sound glamorous, there are some legal risks to be aware of.
The Video Soundtrack – Copyright infringement
The music you’ve timed your perfectly choreographed Git Up Challenge dance to, is protected by copyright laws. This means that every time somebody uses the song, they must get the permission of the producer/s, song-writer/s, and performer/s who created it, or risk a law suit.
TikTok has been getting around copyright issues by partnering with record companies – allowing users to lip-sync to their favourite songs, without fear of being slapped with a cease and desist letter for copyright infringement.
However, this does not mean that all of your favourite pop songs are fair game, and you may find yourself receiving copyright infringement notices from TikTok, if you upload a copyrighted song not offered by the platform. If you ‘accidentally’ upload too many copyrighted works, your account could even be shutdown.
It’s important to note that this may also extend to other material, such as artwork or films, which may find their way into your TikTok video.
Ultimately, if you want to make it into the Viral Hall of Fame, it’ll pay to be conscious of the songs and images in your video. Or you may have your video taken down before it even takes off.
The Video Acting – Breach of Broadcasting Guidelines and Defamation
The behaviour of the people featured in your TikTok video is also important. If they act in an offensive, defamatory or inappropriate manner, you could face legal liability.
For example, if anything is posted that could attract a rating of MA15+ and above, the user could be in breach of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992.
Also, if anybody on a video makes comments that defame another person, they could be forced to pay that person for the damage caused by their comments.
The Video Setting – Getting Permission/Terms of Entry
Often the terms of entry into a festival, historical site, museum or other like place will involve an undertaking not to create videos, photographs or broadcasts, without a permit.
For example, if a business wishes to film in the Kakadu National Park site in Australia’s tropical north, it must first get a permit from the Australian Government. A permit application fee of $250 per day (or part of a day) is payable under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Regulations 2000 for filming.
If you don’t follow the legal conditions of entry, or fail to get the appropriate passes and permits, you could potentially be liable for, at the very least, breach of contract, and at most, breach of a statutory scheme.
The Video Actors – Permission
No matter where you create your TikTok video, if you are making it for a commercial purpose, including to promote your clothing, gym, café or business, then you must get the permission of anybody who is identifiable in the video.
Avoiding these issues
The best way to avoid all of these potential legal potholes, on the way to your social media success story, is to plan ahead and take the following precautions:
1. Consider whether there may be any copyright material in your video. If a song is not already uploaded to the TikTok platform, then you should be cautious in using it;
2. Consider any speech used in the video (signs or added text). Make sure they don’t include defamatory or offensive comments, which may attract legal liability;
3. Ensure that you have the proper permission to video at a location. If a location has terms or conditions of entry, or is a historical site, alarm bells should be ringing; and
4. Ensure that before you post a film of anyone, you ask them for permission to do so.
This simple checklist should help you avoid some serious legal issues, while still creating the freshest relatable content and meta memes out there.
Get cracking, the clock is ticking – TikTok…TikTok…TikTok.