ARIA Fires Back Against TikTok’s Song Restrictions in Australia: ‘An Attempt to Downplay the Significance of Music’

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A nighttime shot of Melbourne, Australia. Photo Credit: Linda Xu

Earlier this month, amid continued licensing talks between the major labels and TikTok, it came to light that the video-sharing app had started limiting the music that certain users can feature in their clips. Now, rightsholders including the Big Three are pushing back against the “test.”

Under the program, select TikTok creators in Australia are unable to add some (presumably well-known) tracks to their videos. Of course, the much-debated app – which is facing heightened Justice Department scrutiny – developed the “test” as one part of a comprehensive effort to demonstrate its limited reliance on major-label tracks as well as its role in popularizing music.

Should user activity and engagement remain similar despite the partial unavailability of commercially prominent songs, logic suggests that TikTok would attempt to leverage the point during negotiations. Moreover, the move – which, like every step taken by the ByteDance-owned service, has been carefully calculated – underscores TikTok’s ultimate say in the music that appears on-platform.

Building upon the latter, it’s hardly a secret that multiple acts’ career ascents began with (or were expedited by) TikTok trends. A number of decades-old releases and artists have found new audiences as a result of these same trends, and recent months have seen Dolly Parton, The Rolling Stones, and several others make their way onto the app.

Bearing in mind this relevance as a promotional tool, TikTok during the past year has quietly worked to broaden its reach and authority in the music sphere. From the rollout of a distribution and marketing service to the launch of a “talent manager portal,” not to mention the debut of “StemDrop” and the newer addition of the Death Row Records catalog, the initiatives have made a large cumulative impact.

For high-profile rightsholders, TikTok’s initially disclosed decision to limit the use of music has elicited particularly substantial pushback, however.

The Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) fired back against the above-described music-limiting test, and CEO Annabelle Herd vented about the “frustrating” development in a statement spanning the better part of 200 words.

“It is frustrating to see TikTok deliberately disrupt Australians’ user and creator experience in an attempt to downplay the significance of music on its platform,” raged the former Network 10 exec Herd. “After exploiting artists’ content and relationships with fans to build the platform, TikTok now seeks to rationalise cutting artists’ compensation by staging a ‘test’ of music’s role in content discovery.

“This is despite the fact that in 2021 TikTok’s Global Head of Music, Ole Obermann, said: ‘Music is at the heart of the TikTok experience.’

“This ‘test’ is presented as an effort to analyse, improve and enhance the platform’s wider sound library, but as little as five months ago, TikTok’s Chief Operating Officer Vanessa Pappas said that 80% of content consumed on TikTok is programmed by algorithms.

“If this is the case, then it’s difficult to trust that this is a true test. TikTok can set its Australian algorithm upfront to – within parameters they define – deliver the results they want.

“Australians deserve better. TikTok should end this ‘test’ immediately and restore music access to all users and creators,” concluded the PPCA CEO.

Moving forward, it’ll be worth monitoring TikTok’s licensing talks, which are undoubtedly being complicated by the fact that the service can exclude tracks from videos at its discretion and unilaterally make clips (as well as their music) go viral.

More significant than said talks are ongoing discussions of a potential stateside ban. While these discussions date back years, a bipartisan campaign targeting TikTok over user-data and national-security concerns has ramped up dramatically in recent months.