TikTok Found Liable For Use Of Unlicensed Content

20 February 2024 | 11:34 am | Ellie Robinson

A court in Munich has ordered the social media giant to pay damages and disclose internal data on its usage of unlicensed content.


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TikTok has been found liable for the use of unlicensed media content on its platform, with Munich Regional Court ordering the social media giant to pay damages and disclose internal data.

As reported by Lexology, the lawsuit against TikTok was filed by soliciting agency Lausen Rechtsanwälte, operating on behalf of Berlin-based film rights distributor Nikita Ventures (which also operates several YouTube channels). Munich Regional Court handed down its verdict on Friday February 9, ruling that the company is liable for content published to its platform as it falls under Germany’s Urheberrechts-Diensteanbieter-Gesetz Act (aka UrhDaG, or the Act on the Copyright Liability of Online Content Sharing Service Providers).

The court ruled that TikTok is a service provider under Section 2 (1) of the UrhDaG, and violated its license obligations as per Section 4 (1) – stating service providers are “obliged to undertake their best efforts to acquire the contractual rights of use for the communication to the public of copyright-protected works”.

As a result, Lexology reports, TikTok must pay damages relevant to the unlicensed content present on the platform, and ensure no further content of its ilk is published; financial specifics have not been disclosed to the public. TikTok will also be forced to disclose how often users uploaded and streamed unlicensed content, as well as the data for the revenue and profit the company generated from the use of unlicensed content.

In a formal statement (as transcribed from German), Antoine Schmidt-Roy – Managing Director of Nikita Ventures – said he and his team “have gone through a long period of frustrating attempts to reach serious negotiations with TikTok for licensing the film productions we distribute”.

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He explained: “We had previously discovered that these film productions had been uploaded to TikTok in large numbers and had achieved considerable viewing figures there. This primarily affects our short film division, but also documentaries, TV shows and music concerts – in short: everything that is also successful on our YouTube channels. With Lausen Rechtsanwälte, we have excellent partners at our side. Our licensors have fully supported the decision to file a lawsuit.”

Also weighing in were lawyers Dr. Matthias Lausen and Dr. Lorenz Haidinger, who said in a joint statement: “The legal situation is clear: platforms such as TikTok are liable for the distribution of content. These platforms, which operate worldwide and generate huge revenues in particular also through the use of third-party content, are required to pay rightsholders an appropriate remuneration for the use of their content. This has now been decided by the Munich Regional Court.”

The news comes amid a string of major blows for TikTok – the biggest of which being their public falling out with Universal Music Group. After failing to strike a deal with TikTok over royalties paid out to them, UMG pulled their entire catalogue of recorded music from the platform. Artists at large slammed the move, with Tones And I making the case that most of the blowback lands on the up-and-coming artists who rely on their TikTok audiences to succeed.

Meanwhile, TikTok recently started testing an in-app tool to generate original music using artificial intelligence – but early use cases have showed the technology is a long way from being usable.