Meteoric Rise of TikTok Demands Agile Trademark Solutions

Lisa Wright,

TikTok is a video-uploading mobile app that is going places. It is fast becoming one of the world’s most downloaded social media apps and so it is not too surprising that brands have recently started to pay attention. The demographic of its original core audience of Generation Z digital natives is changing fast. 

Users of all ages are now attracted to the popular App, offering businesses and brands the potential to expand their reach through this lucrative marketing channel. It therefore follows that knowing how to protect your brand on the mobile App is a critical part of your overall trademark strategy. 

We’ve got you covered 

NameCheck automatically includes relevant common law search results including those from all major social media platforms (now including TikTok), when running your AI trademark clearance search. The TrademarkNow database covers virtually the entire globe and accounts for major App stores, web, social media data, and other common law data along with 180 trademark registries! 

It is as simple as Tik-Tok-Toe!

More about TikTok 

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Beijing based media and tech company and launched in China in 2016. In November 2017 ByteDance acquired and then absorbed the amateur music video app Musical.ly for a purported billion dollars, whose 100 million monthly user base was found in Europe and the Americas - thus giving TikTok a far broader audience and reach.

By 2018 the app had some 500 million active monthly users, located primarily in Asia. In China alone TikTok goes by the name Douyin and according to online publisher TechCrunch Douyin has over 400 million monthly active users in China today. TikTok was the second most downloaded mobile App in the U.S in 2019.

Diverse user base

Teenagers and young people are the primary users of the app which delivers videos of amateur music, comedy, performance art and much more. Users can make and share their own videos as well as being able to watch everyone else’s content. 

Celebrities like Reese Witherspoon, Ariana Grande, Lewis Capaldi, Kevin Hart and Will Smith are also all active and frequent TikTok users. In the sporting arena, the NBA (who have over 4 million followers), NFL as well as Liverpool FC also have strong followings. Even media and news organizations like Sky News, NBC and The Washington Post have a TikTok presence and some, like Seventeen magazine even host short shows designed for a teen audience.

What makes Tik-Tok tick?

Users create videos that are up to 60 seconds in length. The vast majority of videos show lip-syncs, dancing, pars cours, comedy sketches or the making of memes. TikTok also displays trending hashtags and challenges. TikTok shows its users videos it thinks they might enjoy based on who they follow and like on the platform. This is in contrast to other social networks where you may only see content from the people or organizations that you actively follow.

Music videos currently remain as one of the most popular genres on TikTok. So it follows that the app has been noticed and embraced fully by the music industry today. Many artists have gone on to benefit and enjoy global success as a direct result of the popularity of the app. 

Brand engagement

Among the options available are video advertising, brand takeovers or sponsored hashtag challenges, the latter of which encourage users to generate their own content and engage with the brand. Last year, cosmetics brand MAC started a sponsored hashtag challenge to boost its profile among teenagers and young people. The sponsored hashtag #YouOwnIt generated 2.3 billion views, and has been hailed as the most successful brand campaign on TikTok to date.

With such prolific and burgeoning global trademark activity and ever-growing brand activity on TikTok (and on other Apps and social networks) it remains critical to safeguard your trademark through consistent proper use and to continually watch, police and protect your trademark from possible third party infringements. 

Imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery on TikTok

Tim Lince, author of the article: “Brand protection on TikTok: what rights holders need to know about the fast-growing social media platform”, published by the World Trademark Review in May 2019, carried out some research into potential trademark protection issues on TikTok. Here are five of his key findings: 

  • Issues concerning counterfeiting seem to be much less prevalent when compared with other social networks. 
  • Imitation brand accounts seem to be more common than on other social media platforms. 
  • Users, when searching for brands, will frequently be shown pages that seem to be genuine but are in fact imitators.
  • Many major brand account names have already been registered by imitation profiles with the account name ‘official_[brand]’.
  • On a positive note, TikTok has put in place verified badges for genuine brand accounts (although it is noted that there does not seem to be any way to request them).

Tiktok on trademark infringement 

Protecting your trademark assets and your brand reputation on any social media site is a serious business. The top social networking sites all have trademark policies and TikTok is no exception. 

Here is a short overview of how TikTok deals with trademark infringement at the time of writing:

  • “TikTok’s policies prohibit any content that infringes on another person’s trademark. Using another person’s trademark in a way that may mislead or confuse people to believe that you are affiliated with the trademark owner may be a violation of our trademark policy”.
  • Should you find someone infringing on your mark, you can submit a trademark report to TikTok through their Trademark Infringement Report or via email (reports@tiktok.com). 
  • If TikTok removes content in response to a report of trademark infringement, they may notify the person you reported to inform them the content was removed. They may also provide the person with your contact information, including your email address and the name of the trademark owner, and/or details of your report.
  • “As a TikTok user, you are responsible for the content you post. If you have questions about copyright law or trademark law, such as questions about whether your content or your use of another person’s name or brand infringes or otherwise violates another person’s rights, you may want to contact an attorney. If you are unsure whether the material you plan to report to us is infringing or otherwise violating another person’s right, you may also want to first seek legal advice before reporting such content to us”.
  • TikTok specifically emphasizes that they are not in a position to adjudicate disputes between third parties, and may ultimately not be able to remove the content in question.

The social revolution

Now, more than ever, brands require content performance across owned and earned media to create broad reach and maintain engagement with their audiences. And regardless of the demise of many social networks (think YikYak, Bebo and Vine) in this fast and fickle social scene, new players are still unfazed and are continuing to emerge all the time. Byte, a new video-sharing app launched by Vine co-founder, Dom Hofmann. just released January 25, 2020 on iOS and Android. Over its opening weekend it rocketed to the top of Apple Inc.’s US App Store. The King is dead, long live the King!

Keep on top of your trademarks in this ever-shifting social landscape.

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