Around this time last year, during a client meeting, a problem was identified. For one of our campaign proposals, the client wanted to use the music of a national artist. That’s it, just use it and “maybe” tag them in the campaign to see that we gave them the credits for it. But that is not exactly how this works, does it?
Judging from the client’s reaction when they heard they needed to pay and get approval to use someone’s work in their advertising efforts, we realized this is very common. The artist isn’t just allowing an entity to use their music “for exposure”. With this specific situation in mind, we decided to take a deeper look at copyrighted music and its usage on social media.
The music industry consists of the phonographic industry (production, distribution, publishing), concerts and other live performances, and the publishing industry (managing copyrights).
With the rise of social media, especially TikTok and Instagram Reels, copyrighted music has become more and more accessible to users (personal or businesses) to be used for their online presence. Alongside this, a problem arose with businesses and content creators/influencers using it. How are the artists getting paid for campaigns they didn’t even agree to be on, but their work is used all over social media platforms?
Copyright law and music.
There are key things to know about copyright laws and the protection it provides. A main idea to keep in mind throughout this read is the fact that copyright protection exists from the moment an original work comes to life in a tangible medium. An example of this case, in particular, is when a song becomes a recorded audio file, a music sheet, or any other type of digital file.
Now, this protection comes with blurry lines on social media, where people can take someone’s music, slightly twitch it and it becomes a “new sound”. As newer artists need to license an older song to re-make it, the same reasoning should be applied to social media usage. But this tends to fly under the radar due to the reason of “just for personal use”.
Take for example a content creator that posts stories showcasing a brand’s product/services, but the music choice is a popular song. The content creator makes money off of endorsing the brand, but the artist does not.
This is part of a cycle. The platform won’t allow your videos to perform unless you use a trendy sound, so you cannot use free music if you want your videos to perform and have something to show to the brand you are working with.
Each platform offers royalty-free audio libraries but “You probably won’t get the same reach on social media, the same engagement, and it’s not as great from a marketing perspective,” said Robert Freund, an attorney specializing in advertising and social media marketing.
One example of this situation is the lawsuit between Warner Music and the British makeup brand Iconic. The latter got sued for using unlicensed music in its social media campaign. The brand used copyrighted music in posts created by influencers under the umbrella of a partnership.
Another example would be Capital Records vs Vimeo. In this case, Vimeo was found liable for copyright infringement due to allowing users to upload and share copyrighted music without permission.
Social media platforms and copyrighted music.
Major social media platforms generally have policies in place regarding copyrighted music. Here is a brief overview of some of these policies:
YouTube has a system called Content ID that automatically detects and flags copyrighted music in videos uploaded to the platform. Copyright owners can choose to have their content removed or monetized, and users who repeatedly violate copyright can have their accounts terminated.
The platform has reported that Content ID has paid out over $3 billion in royalties to copyright owners since its launch in 2007. The system has also been successful in detecting and removing infringing content from the platform.
Facebook has a similar system called Rights Manager that allows copyright owners to claim and manage their content on the platform. Facebook also has policies in place that prohibit users from uploading copyrighted music without permission and may remove content or disable accounts for repeated violations.
Rights Manager has been used by over 40,000 rights holders to manage their content on the platform and has been effective in detecting and removing infringing content.
Instagram’s policies are similar to Facebook’s, with a system called Rights Manager that allows copyright owners to claim and manage their content on the platform. Instagram also has policies in place that prohibit users from uploading copyrighted music without permission and may remove content or disable accounts for repeated violations.
Rights Manager has been used to manage over 6 million pieces of content on the platform and has been effective in detecting and removing infringing content.
TikTok has a library of licensed music that users can choose from to add to their videos. The platform also has policies in place that prohibit users from uploading copyrighted music without permission and may remove content or disable accounts for repeated violations.
According to a report by the Recording Industry Association of America, TikTok was responsible for 9.5% of the US music market in 2020, up from just 0.5% in 2019. This indicates the effectiveness of TikTok’s licensed music library in reducing the amount of infringing content on the platform.
Twitter’s policies prohibit users from uploading copyrighted music without permission and may remove content or disable accounts for repeated violations. Copyright owners can also request that infringing content be removed through Twitter’s DMCA takedown process.
It reported that it received over 11 million takedown requests and removed over 1.1 million tweets for copyright infringement in 2020. This indicates the effectiveness of Twitter’s DMCA takedown process in addressing infringing content on the platform.
It’s worth noting that these policies can vary by country and may change over time and that social media platforms may face legal challenges related to their handling of copyrighted content.
Consequences of using copyrighted music on social media.
Using copyrighted music on social media without permission can have several consequences, including legal action, takedown requests, and account suspension. Here are some examples:
- Legal action: Copyright owners can take legal action against users who use their music without permission, including suing for damages. For example, in 2018, Universal Music Group sued a user on Facebook for uploading a video containing a Prince song without permission.
- Takedown requests: Social media platforms have policies in place to address copyright infringement, and copyright owners can request that infringing content be taken down. For example, in 2019, Taylor Swift’s record label, Big Machine Label Group, requested that several of her songs be removed from a user’s Twitter account.
- Account suspension: Social media platforms can suspend or terminate accounts that repeatedly infringe on copyright. For example, in 2021, Twitch suspended the account of streamer “OhNoItsLIVE” for playing copyrighted music without permission. The suspension was lifted after the streamer deleted the infringing content.
Alternatives to using copyrighted music on social media.
There are several alternatives for users who want to incorporate music into their posts legally. Some of these alternatives include:
A. Using royalty-free music: Royalty-free music is music that can be used in creative projects without paying ongoing royalties or fees. There are many websites that offer royalty-free music for use in social media posts, such as:
- PremiumBeat: https://www.premiumbeat.com/
- AudioJungle: https://audiojungle.net/
- Epidemic Sound: https://www.epidemicsound.com
B. Obtaining permission from copyright owners: Users can also obtain permission from copyright owners to use their music in social media posts. This can involve contacting the copyright owner directly or using a licensing service. Some licensing services include:
- Songtradr: https://www.songtradr.com/
- Artlist: https://artlist.io/
- Musicbed: https://www.musicbed.com/
C. Creating original music: Users can also create their own original music to use in social media posts. There are many online tools and resources available to help users create their own music, such as:
- Soundtrap: https://www.soundtrap.com/
- BandLab: https://www.bandlab.com/
- Splice: https://splice.com/
Newer artists use TikTok or other social media platforms in order to promote their music and create viral songs, but the music industry cannot rely solely on these platforms. And I, personally believe that platforms will give users different access to audio libraries. Content creator or business? Royalty-free audio library. Regular user (just for personal use)? A vast audio library.
Overall, there are many alternatives available for users and businesses who want to incorporate music into their posts legally. By using royalty-free music, obtaining permission from copyright owners, or creating their own original music, users can ensure that they are respecting the rights of copyright owners while still creating engaging and creative social media content.
And as a final thought, always double-check content, especially music in your advertising campaigns, and don’t let other people tell you that “It’s fine, no one will notice”.