$2 Billion: US Should Make TikTok Sale Contingent on Paying Songwriters

The Twitter-sphere has been captivated by the imminent ban of TikTok or forced sale to American investors. What many people do not realize is that the service, built on a foundation of stolen songs, has refused to license or pay royalties to songwriters.

Songwriters have been forced to finance the hyper growth of the social media phenomenon. So why shouldn’t they be rewarded like any other venture capitalist? Further why should the venture capital firms like SoftBank be rewarded for knowingly financing an apparent criminal RICO racket. Give songwriters their share.

And I’m not exaggerating when I say “apparent criminal RICO racket.” Normally major publishers and trade organizations  would be all over a deep pocketed infringer like TikTok. Songwriters have been puzzled by their apparent lack of interest in TikTok before national securities concerns began to threaten to shut the service down. Fueling suspicions that something nasty is afoot, is the fact several digital licensing executives from major publishers seem to have let TikTok slide and then a few months later started working for TikTok (here, here, here) . This by itself deserves a look from the DOJ. It stinks to high heaven. Especially as these executives were fully aware of the scale of ongoing and willful infringement.

Some of you may have seen headlines announcing that major labels entered into licensing agreements with TikTok.  Those licenses are for the recordings but not the underlying compositions which are generally owned by songwriters and publishers.  To make matter more confusing the National Music Publishers Association announced a settlement in the last few days. Curious timing, right?  This is an opt-in agreement for publishers not songwriters. Further no one knows the terms of this deal. If it’s anything like the Spotify-NMPA settlement, the vast majority of the settlement was split between the big five publishers.

Regardless the main US trade beef with China has been the theft of IP from US businesses. Songwriting is a business and TikTok has engaged in blatant infringement of our IP. This is no different than theft of trade secrets or infringement of technology patents. It is not beyond the scope of a US directed settlement to make TikTok and its investors pay for its crimes committed against US songwriters before a sale is allowed.

Given the scale of the apparent willful infringement and the rumored $30 Billion price tag for TikTok. Two billion dollars is quite reasonable.

Further this settlement should be paid directly to songwriters as it appears major publishers did nothing to stop infringement of songwriters’ works. These publishers have an implicit fiduciary responsibility to songwriters and they apparently did nothing.  They should not be rewarded. Pay the settlement through songwriter PROs at 100% writer 0% publisher. This could be wrapped up in a few weeks. Fairness dictates songwriters, the victims of the apparent racket, should be compensated and TikTok and its investors punished.

About Dr. David C Lowery

Platinum selling singer songwriter for the bands Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven; platinum selling producer; founder of pitch-a-tent records; founder Sound of Music Studios; platinum selling music publisher; angel investor; digital skeptic; college lecturer and founder of the University of Georgia Terry College Artists' Rights Symposium.

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