A month-long test by social media platform TikTok has resulted in many of its Australian users having the sound removed from their videos, rendering them unwatchable.
According to a spokesperson for TikTok, it has been testing in Australia to analyse how music is accessed and used on the platform.
“While the test is under way, we expect that some of our users will not be able to access our full music and sounds library. For more than half of our community there will be no change to their experience and the test will not impact them,” a spokesperson for the platform said.
However, rather than just the background music being removed, entire audio tracks have been muted, including those used in videos for educational and news content.
For Mary McGillivray, a large Australian creator who makes art history content, this has meant approximately 57% of her back catalogue has been rendered unwatchable for a significant portion of her audience.
“It’s really confusing, because for a lot of my content I upload my own audio tracks, where I’ve paid for a licence from an external provider, so these aren’t even TikTok sounds … they’ve been flagged as violating TikTok’s community guidelines, but there isn’t even a place for me to respond to the ‘violation’ and provide my music licence,” McGillivray said.
She said this has been particularly stressful given that neither the creators or users received any warning from TikTok indicating the existence of the test or their participation in it. McGillivray’s only source of information has been through other, larger creators, with a direct line to workers at the company.
“It’s very disappointing,” McGillivray said. “Creators are not guinea pigs, we’re the people who provide the content and therefore the entire value of a platform … it does make you feel like it’s a platform that doesn’t value its creators as much as it should.”
ABC News and Guardian Australia have also had sound removed on a number of TikTok videos.
McGillivray said it was luck she had alternative revenue streams, but other big name creators have told Guardian Australia that the test poses a serious threat to their livelihoods this month, with scheduled brand collaborations now at risk.
The alienation of these users comes at a tricky time for the platform. The Guardian understands a number of large TikTokers have been approached by other short-form video platforms and offered lucrative deals for exclusive content. Some have now said this test may be the “final straw” and they will make the switch.
TikTok has developed a symbiotic relationship with the music industry in recent years – with the use of popular songs in videos becoming an integral part of the app’s appeal, and in turn a track’s ability to go viral on TikTok influencing its success.
Reports published by Bloomberg suggest TikTok has been engaged in lengthy negotiations with various large record labels over the share of ad revenue they receive in turn for allowing the use of their tracks on the app. The Australian test is being viewed by some as an attempt by TikTok to see if usage remains steady despite limited access to music, thus strengthening their parent company, ByteDance’s, bargaining position.
The company has now set up a feedback form for affected creators.
In a public statement TikTok apologised for any “disappointment” caused, stating it looked “forward to restoring the full catalogue at the conclusion of the test period.”