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Black Content Creators are Learning that Owning Intellectual Property is Only Half the Battle

The influence of social media is huge and growing. It can turn vague ideas like Bitcoin and NFTs into a gold mine for some. TikTok has fast become the number one social media platform with more than two billion downloads.  

While TikTok has helped to make overnight celebrities (and millionaires) of a few teenagers, most content creators, especially those who are African-American, strive to make a living. This has not stopped some celebrities from benefitting from their work without providing compensation or even credit. For a summary go here.

When Jalaiah Harmon, a 14-year old from Atlanta, posted a side by side video of her and friend Kaliyah Davis doing the “Renegade” dance first on her Funimate account and then on her personal Instagram account she did not think it would go far (see video above). 

‘Renegade’ Explosion


It was not until Charli D’amelio (125+ million TikTok followers and 252 million YouTube views) posted a 20-second video of her doing Harmon’s dance without credit that the trend exploded. The video became an overnight success and helped D'amelio gain millions of subscriber and kickstarted the “Renegade” dance challenge on TikTok.

Black and other creators of all ages are concerned that their original material, technically copyrightable but seldom filed or enforced, will become fodder for celebrity social media stars.

When 17-year old D’amelio and 21-year old Addison Rae appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon they did not acknowledge the source of their dances. The impression was that they created them. Dance is protected under copyright law, but seldom are the rights enforced. (Fallon later tried to make things right with a video feed of some of the actual creators.)

Crediting the Creator

When millions is followers and dollars are involved, it in not necessarily about obtaining and enforcing IP rights, but how the creators can better build their brand and business using them. Aggressive enforcement may dissuade leading creators from using content in the first place, especially if they think they may have to pay for it or face a law suit. Crediting the creator – acknowledging a source – on social media can be as meaningful as currency. 


Platforms can not currently be relied upon to police creators’ rights. And creators, even if they own legitimate copyrights to their dance and other videos, may find infringers willing to take down potentially infringed content but unwilling to pay for it.

The good news is that while the social media terrain may currently look like the Wild West, where only the biggest and baddest survive, it can be tamed if creators and viewers agree that doing the right thing is as important as dancing to it.

For a more in depth look at the content creator controversy, go here.


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