Navigating Copyright Laws with Trending Audios

Whether or not you spend time scrolling through the personalized, video content app TikTok, it doesn’t take an avid user to know that a catchy song or sound effect entices and engages. 

TikTok, the short form video platform owned by ByteDance, has gained massive traction since its merger with in August 2018. It’s user friendly, digestible, and highly personalized to each of its 1 billion monthly users. As its origins lie in dancing and comedy videos made by individuals, the user base has shifted to having brands and associations of all kinds in the mix. Utilizing the app’s easy approach to video, brands can blend into an average TikTok feed by staying up with the latest trends on the platform.

But what happens when your business account is dying to use a specific audio, but is unable because of the restrictions of copyright? In this article, we breakdown the copyright rules of a business TikTok account, and what you can and can’t use when making videos with trending audios. 

TikTok Sounds 101- The Basics

TikTok at its core is a video app, you can scroll without audio and for the most part, enjoy your experience. With ADA compliant features like auto generated closed captions, visual descriptions written in comments/captions, and a plethora of editable typography, users can enjoy content without the typical audio and visual experience. 

With that said, the overarching audiovisual experience is what most people think of when they imagine content found on the app. But how do you navigate copyright on an app that is dominated by copyrighted songs? How do you know what’s free to use and what’s copyrighted? While we’re by no means giving legal advice, here are 3 tips to navigate sounds that might be copyrighted, sounds that are free to use, and what exactly that means for you and your TikToks.

1. Avoid copyright infringement all together

While TikTok has a Commercial Audio Library of 150,000 precleared and licensed audios, this does not mean that automatically every trending audio is one of them. (You can find the audio database here!)

For a free pool of audios, you may be surprised to see some familiar songs sprinkled in. Instead of  a generic database of boring stock audios, TikTok has a surprisingly good handle on licensing certain trending audios. It’s always a good idea to check their database before scrapping an idea.

If you discover an audio you love, but see a “This sound isn’t licensed for commercial use” banner, the audio is outside of the database.

2. Don’t take the risk

TikTok’s AI will likely detect the use of copyrighted music, even in a video with no impressions or engagement. While most of the time your video will be muted or privated, it’s not a safe bet to use copyrighted music. Small businesses may think because of their small numbers, using copyrighted music won’t be detected. Legally, you could be sent a cease and desist letter for the videos.

With that being said, you are able to use the audios outside of the database, but you must accept a warning from TikTok. However, this doesn’t mean your video is safe, this is just a formality.

3. Save your video content

In the instance of a copyright claim, it’s essential as content creators to save backups of work. Instead of having your content taken down and lost forever, make sure to save a backup, without any background music/audio and TikTok watermarks. Without taking these steps, there’s no option to save a copyright-removed video. 

TikTok’s Business Account Policies- What Exactly is a Business Account?

Beyond the standard user’s account, TikTok offers the option of creating a business account. Designed for brands and companies that want to reach consumers on the platform, these accounts provide benefits such as:

  • Create and run paid ads
  • Manage posts to be scheduled for a later date
  • Option to add external links to drive individuals to your blog, ecommerce store, etc.
  • Analytics dashboard to track engagement and content progress
  • Ability to collaborate with influencers through sponsorships 

How to transfer a standard account to a business account:

  1. Navigate to the Profile tab on TikTok’s app
  2. Click the Settings and Privacy symbol at the top of your profile
  3. Manage Account > Switch to Business Account 
  4. > Next at bottom of the page to complete setup

How to Utilize Audio for Great Business Content- Tricks of the Trade

Being limited to royalty free audios as a business account may seem like a disaster for content creation. However, now that we’re familiar with TikTok’s restrictions and what audios your business page can use, it’s time to get creative. Here are 5 of our best tips for alternative business content creation on TikTok:

  1. Use the database to your advantage: Believe it or not, TikTok’s Audio Database is significantly better than the average pool of free audio. It’s not a feat to find audios with and without lyrics, select trending audios, and unique audios for your brand. Constantly updated by TikTok to get brands creative and posting, the Audio Database is a feature you definitely want in your toolbelt.
  1. Check every audio you think is interesting: When scrolling through your For You page, click the audio on the lower right corner and see if it has a “This sound isn’t licensed for commercial use” banner. If it doesn’t, your business is completely free to utilize the audio however you’d like. Frequently checking trending audios to see if you can use them is a great way to stay ahead on relevant content and pick accurate, recent trends. 

Maple Glaze has entered the villa 🎉 Let’s welcome this new cookie to the rotation! 👏 #CrumblCookies

♬ original sound – Crumbl Cookies
Crumbl Cookies utilizes a trending audio, free to use as a business account. 
  1. Create your own audios: Notice a trending audio you really want to be a part of? Creating your own audios is always a copyright-free way to get around legalities. Recording humorous sayings, tone of voice, humming a tune, singly poorly as a way of mocking the original, are all options when taking audio creation into your own hands. A lot of audios like these gain traction, and invite other users to engage too.
  1. Find copyright free covers of trending audios: Based on hours of scrolling through TikTok, business accounts will typically use an almost spot-on cover of a trending audio. The singer’s voice, instruments, sound effects, will be similar enough to the original for the business account to slip through and seem like they’re using the same audio as personal account users.
  1. Get creative with trends and hashtags: Some trends aren’t just centered around audios. Leveraging certain aspects of a trend can give your business account a loophole in participating. Composed dances, filters, hashtags, and challenges are all options beyond just utilizing audio to trend. 

Your own business can be a trend-starter with this method! Pull an audio from the Audio Database and add a hashtag to create a trend for other individuals and businesses to participate in as well. You also have the ability to create your own face filters and lenses, just like Instagram and Snapchat.

The San Diego Zoo utilizes a trending text format and customizes it to their need for hiring volunteers. 
  1. Try to receive permission from artists: While not the best idea if a trend is time-sensitive, , you can attempt to reach out to the copyright holder and receive permission to use an audio. Sending messages to artists to use their songs in your content is standard practice to help both parties gain exposure. 

This works more ideally for small independent musicians, we don’t recommend trying to email large corporations to use the #1 hit of the Summer. 

Large brand accounts will often have an allocated music budget for their advertising campaigns. While they are able to spend $$$ on copyrighted audio, it’s not the defining factor of succeeding in advertising on the platform. 

With the restrictions on business accounts, and the whirlwind of trends on TikTok, using the platform as a successful way to advertise and get attention to your brand is tricky. Reach out to us and see how we can offer a successful TikTok campaign without the stress of managing your business account!

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice, we are not a law firm. For informational purposes only. 


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