A common question we've been asked about TikTok usage for brands is whether businesses can add whatever songs they want to their TikTok clips, free of constraints or costs. And the answer thus far has been yes, as such usage was seemingly built into TikTok's existing agreements with music publishers, many of which stemmed from back when it was called Musical.ly.
But now, that appears to have changed, which could alter your brand approach to TikTok marketing.
According to Dave Jorgenson, a video producer for The Washington Post, TikTok has quietly altered the rules around commercial usage of popular music, which will stop verified brands from using popular tracks, referring them, instead, to a new, royalty-free 'Commercial Music Library' of sounds that are available for businesses.
According to an explanation from TikTok, shared by Jorgenson:
"We recently rolled out the Commercial Music Library. This new library enables verified businesses or organizations on TikTok to access a pool of royalty-free music for promotional content, and provides the tools and resources to help them further embrace the creativity and authenticity of the TikTok community."
In further notes, TikTok explains that the Commercial Music Library will provide "high-quality, free-to-use music" that will "also save you time and investment in sorting out music licensing". But, conversely, these entities won't be allowed to include popular tracks in their clips from now on.
Jorgenson also shared this image of a new warning on tracks which are not available for commercial use.
The change itself is not overly surprising. With publishers becoming increasingly wary about having their content associated with brands that they don't like or agree with, it makes sense that they would also look to stop potential association with such on TikTok, which is seeing more downloads every day. Yet, at the same time, it's not clear what, exactly, has spurred the sudden change in direction on this front.
TikTok announced a range of new music licensing agreements back in January, and at that time, there was no noted differentiation between commercial and non-commercial use.
To be clear, the change here only impacts verified businesses on TikTok at this stage, not regular users, who are still free to use popular tracks in their video clips, nor, seemingly, non-verified businesses on the platform.
The specifics here are a little uncertain - if a verified business is no longer allowed to use commercial tracks, then a non-verified businesses account should also fall under the same requirements. But then, of course, TikTok doesn't have any official rules on business usage, as such - you have the option to switch to a Pro account in your account settings, which then gives you access to analytics, but that's not a business account, as such, and it's also not a requirement.
Maybe, TikTok will have to introduce a new business account setting at some stage, as Instagram has done, which would then change the qualifiers around what is and is not available to you - but right now, the only businesses accounts that TikTok can clearly enforce are verified entities, which is likely why it's only limited to them at this stage.
(Note: TikTok does have business accounts already in some regions, and it could specify business accounts based on those who use the platform for ads.)
So does that mean you can still use commercial tracks in your clips if you're not verified? Technically, yes, though I imagine they're working on this. If you're currently using music clips in TikTok clips on your brand account, it may be worth preparing for the day when the regular tracks are not available to you.
The biggest impact here will be on trending memes and remixes - if brands can't add to these streams, that could reduce visibility on the platform, and limit potential reach.
But you'll still be able to use the generic backing tracks - check out these categories of royalty-free sounds, posted by journalist Oliver Trenchard.
So, no 'Interior Crocodile Alligator', but there'll be some 'Good Day' music that fits. Right?
TikTok does note that:
"While your account will not have access to the full music library anymore, you should still have access to user uploaded sounds."
So there'll still be opportunities to use non-commercial tracks in your clips. Maybe not as helpful as being able to plug into the next trend, but still, That's something.
Jorgenson also notes that the new restrictions appear to apply to commercial entities only, not popular influencers, another proviso in the new terms.
We've asked TikTok for further clarification, and will update this post if/when we hear back.
UPDATE: (5/12): TikTok has confirmed the change, providing SMT with this statement:
"We are always exploring opportunities to create value for our community and our partners. The Commercial Music Library enables verified businesses or organizations on TikTok to access a pool of royalty free music for promotional content, and provides the tools and resources to help them further embrace the creativity and authenticity of the TikTok community.
If an account chooses to use sounds beyond what is available in the Commercial Music Library for their promotional content, they are still able to obtain the appropriate commercial license and ingest the sound on to TikTok for their use."