TikTok is going legit.

The popular short-form video sharing platform has struck a worldwide licensing deal with Merlin, the independent music community’s digital rights agency, with immediate effect.

What that means is that the catalogues of Merlin’s members, who represent more than 15 percent of the global recorded music market, are now licensed for use on TikTok. And the artists, labels and others in the chain get paid.

Both parties describe the deal, announced today, as a “significant music partnership.”

TikTok was one of the most downloaded apps on the planet in 2019, and is wildly popular with the teen and tween demographics.

It’s also played a role in breaking countless artists and songs; Lil Nas X can thank TikTok users for turning ‘Old Town Road’ into a viral smash, and Arizona Zervas’ ‘ROXANNE,’ currently at No. 6 on the ARIA Singles Chart, was became a success story via the social platform.

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The logo for massively popular app TikTok
Tiktok

For the music industry, TikTok has behaved like a good cop/bad cop character. For a platform with such powerful reach into the tablets and smartphones of youngsters around the globe, its been slack at paying royalties.

Indeed, the National Music Publishers’ Association in the United States last year accused the video-sharing app of copyright theft and raised the issue with Congress.

“In addition to important censorship concerns, it appears that TikTok has consistently violated U.S. copyright law and the rights of songwriters and music publishers,” reads a letter from NMPA president and CEO David Israelite to Senator Marco Rubio.

Those problems weren’t confined to the U.S., Richard Mallett, Head of Licensing at APRA AMCOS told TIO last October: “Quite simply, TikTok should do the right thing by copyright owners and take out licences to ensure music creators get paid for the use of their work.”

Merlin’s membership includes tens of thousands of independent record labels, distributors and artist management companies from more than 60 countries, including Australia.

Its members include U.K. indies Beggars Group, Warp Records, XL and Domino, French label Naïve, U.S. companies Tommy Boy and Sub Pop, classical specialist Naxos, and Michael Gudinski’s Mushroom Group.

The new partnership is a coup for Merlin and the indie sector, and a signal of TitTok’s evolution as a fair-play, fair-pay platform.

Jeremy Sirota as the new Chief Executive Officer
Merlin’s Jeremy Sirota

It’s also a triumph for Jeremy Sirota, the former Facebook executive who recently succeeded founding leader Charles Caldas as CEO.

“This partnership with TikTok is very significant for us,” Sirota comments in a joint statement. “We are seeing a new generation of music services and a new era of music-related consumption, much of it driven by the global demand for independent music. Merlin members are increasingly using TikTok for their marketing campaigns, and today’s partnership ensures that they and their artists can also build new and incremental revenue streams.”

Scores of Merlin’s artists have accelerated their careers by leveraging TikTok’s quick-hit platform, including Cosmo Sheldrake (AWAL), Dirty Heads (Better Noise), Falco Punch & Scooter (Kontor New Media), Los Palmeras (Leader Entertainment), Major Lazer (mtheory), Official HIGE DANdism (Pony Canyon), Reik & Haze (Cinq Recordings), Sampa The Great (Ninja Tune), Tokyo’s Revenge (Foundation Media) and Valentino Khan (Mad Decent).

Now, they’ll also get royalties from TikTok.

Ole Obermann, Global Head of Music, adds: “Independent artists and labels are such a crucial part of music creation and consumption on TikTok. We’re excited to partner with Merlin to bring their family of labels to the TikTok community. The breadth and diversity of the catalogue presents our users with an even larger canvas from which to create, while giving independent artists the opportunity to connect with TikTok’s diverse community.”

Owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, the app reportedly hit 1 billion downloads worldwide last February, with the United States accounting for about 10 percent of the traffic.

Ahead of the new Merlin deal, TikTok hired former Warner Music Group executive Tracy Gardner to lead third-party licensing negotiations.

Since its launch in 2008, Merlin has distributed well over $2 billion to its members.