Brands, Music and the
TikTok Wild West

Licensing Music for TikTok
by Philippe-Aubert Messier

So you’re producing content for TikTok and you’re at a loss as to how to source music? Well you’re definitely not the only one. It seems TikTok is the wildest of the wild-wild west of digital platforms. Fortunately, as its world domination progresses, so does the company’s attention to the management of music copyright and to a brand-safe environment to post content.

Using Popular Music

It used to be that everyone could and would post videos on TikTok that used any song they could get their hands on, including from other Tik Tok videos on the platform. It was commonplace to see videos that contained unlicensed music go insanely viral. Those are all cases of copyright infringement. The digital platforms in the United States are protected from legal action related to its users uploads, so long as these platforms respond diligently to takedown notices sent by people and companies whose rights have been violated. This is enshrined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, which was drafted in part to protect digital platforms from crippling lawsuits. The protection afforded by the DMCA  was a key ingredient in the ascent of many digital platforms including Youtube and Tiktok, and yes, Pornhub too. That said, this works only so far as companies can afford to be reckless digital cowboys. When companies such as YouTube and Tik Tok need to legitimize their operations and want to make new friends, they need to play nicer with the ecosystem of companies that have been running the show long before they were born. In music, these players are the major record labels and publishers, and large independent companies like Universal, Warner, SonyATV, Kobalt, and a few more.

Like we’ve seen with YouTube and Spotify and many more, Tiktok made deals with these companies to allow their music to be used by content creators on Tiktok. Without going into too many details, these deals are short term, and necessary for music companies to keep TikTok on a leash while they figure out how they’re going to generate money and funnel that money back to the music companies.

So today, content creators, with the notable exception of brands, can use that music. Yes you read that right. Brands can’t use that music anymore but your 14 year old nieces and nephews can. And that’s actually good news. Before you say it was great exposure for artists, read this. In any case, that ship has sailed. You cannot use unlicensed popular music on TikTok anymore. The difference comes from your account type, which TikTok requires you to flag if you are a promotional account. This is a quote from their business website : “When your account has been identified as a promotional or official brand account, you will only be able to use tracks from the Commercial Music Library.”

Now let’s talk about that library.

The Commercial Library

This is a library of music that TikTok has commissioned to get out of a tough spot with music companies, while still allowing brands to publish content. Before you despair, there are other options, as you’ll see below. At the time of writing, this library consists of 7,000 tracks across a variety of genres. As you can expect, it’s stock music, and it’s not the greatest quality. You can use this music but you’re still required to request approval from TikTok by filling out and sending back a form. Yes, having to file a request sort of defeats the purpose of having a dedicated library. But one of the upsides is that they will let you know what tracks other advertisers use or have used. This is clearly to address advertisers concerns about all using the same music. 

Other (Better) Options

Tiktok allows “promotional or official brand accounts” to bring their own music along with their videos, and rely on the uploading party to represent that they’ve licensed their music appropriately. This is probably the most flexible and straightforward option for most brands. This simply means that you need a license specific to Tiktok, like you would for any other media you post or broadcast your spot on. And since your video is from a promotional account, the music that’s on your video will not be available to grab or remix by other TikTok users, which makes licensing much more straightforward. At this point, it works like licensing music for any other form of media. 

We hope this has been helpful for anyone wanting to dip their toe in the TikTok pool, but if you need a hand getting your music licensed for TikTok, we’re here to help. Just fill in the info in the form below and we’ll get started for you.

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