ByteDance-owned short video platform TikTok sent multiple takedown notices to its Indian competitor Sharechat, forcing it to remove videos that were originally uploaded by TikTok users on its platform. Citing exclusive right over the content due to a contractual agreement with content creators, TikTok said Sharechat was in violation of copyright laws by letting its users post content from other sources.
Incidentally, Facebook and YouTube users have also posted compilations of TikTok video. However, it is not clear if they have received the notice as well.
Content platforms regularly get into an exclusive partnership with original content creators to ensure a regular flow of quality content thereby creating a bank of loyal and regular viewers. Government and law enforcement agencies are taking a closer look at such partnerships to ensure who to get hold off if something goes wrong. Currently, under the Information Technology Act, social media platforms are just intermediaries, an argument that these platforms often use to shrug off legal liability that might arise due to any objectionable content posted by their users.
In April this year, TikTok referred to this status in Madras High Court when it was banned by the Indian government for allegedly allowing its users to post content that was unsuitable and dangerous for children.
“If you are claiming exclusivity, that (legal safe harbors) protection falls away. If something goes wrong, how do we know it is user generated or it was created on behalf of TikTok,” a senior technology lawyer who did not wish to be named told Economic Times.
Before September 2017, Sharechat enjoyed the near monopoly due to its huge user base mostly from tier 2 and 3 cities in India. However, with several Chinese short video apps coming to India its market share got diluted. In June last year, ByteDance launched Helo, a new platform—similar to its Indian rival—to create a stronger user base in smaller cities. Within a month of its launch it got one million downloads.
The rivalry between Chinese giant ByteDance and Sharechat—backed by Chinese investors such as Morningside Ventures and Xiaomi—has spilled into courtrooms in the past. Last year, Sharechat took TikTok to court for copying its design and using the keywords ‘share’ and ‘chat’ on Google Adwords to direct traffic to its platform.
TikTok, which competes with Facebook as well in India, claims it has 200 million users, of which 120 million are monthly active users. After Helo’s launch in 2018, a media report says Sharechat’s month-on-month growth fell to 6% from 20%.