Sony Music has filed a lawsuit against hotel giant Marriott, accusing the company of unauthorised use of its music in social media posts.

The case arrives amidst a year of turbulence between big record labels, social platforms, advertisers, and creators.

A bit of background: It seems that large corporations are still figuring out how to navigate the use of popular music in short-form video content.

In this current time, the two are pretty much reliant on each other – for better or worse. Platforms like TikTok have amplified artists and their music, turning little-known indie musicians into global stars within a matter of months

TikTok has even developed a reputation for reinvigorating old songs, such as Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’, which re-entered the charts this year thanks to a viral video.

For users on the app, music is an important part of the experience. Three quarters of US TikTok users say that they discover new music through the platform and almost 90% of TikTok users state that sound is key to the app’s experience.

However, it’s not all been so rosy. Earlier this year, Universal Music Group (UMG) pulled all of their artists from the app, over disagreements around loyalties. It didn’t take long for the two companies to patch things up, as UMG returned to the app in May.

Now, there’s a new music-based discrepancy. This time, a record label is targeting a brand on the platform, as opposed to the platform itself.

Sony sues Marriott

Sony Music has filed a lawsuit against hotel giant Marriott, accusing the company of unauthorised use of its music in social media posts. 

The lawsuit claims that recordings by artists like Beyoncé, Michael Jackson, and Harry Styles appeared without proper licensing in videos promoting Marriott’s various hotel brands. These videos were created by Marriott’s marketing teams, affiliated companies, and influencers paid by Marriott.

Sony Music aims to halt Marriott’s “rampant infringement” and seek damages for what it calls “wilful conduct.” While platforms like Instagram and TikTok have licenses with the music industry, these typically cover non-commercial use. Brands must negotiate sync deals with record labels for commercial content.

Sony alleges Marriott’s competitors pay substantial sums to license Sony’s music for digital advertising, including influencer-created content. The lawsuit argues that Marriott, notified of the infringement since 2020, had control over the content and failed to act. Sony emphasized that it continued to inform Marriott of ongoing violations, including as recently as March 2024.

A lesson to take note of

Beckii Flint, Head of Marketing and Communications at Pepper Studio, commented on the lawsuit in a LinkedIn post, stating, “Unfortunately, it looks like Marriott is the unlucky one that is being singled out. But in truth, their social team are doing what all other teams are doing - leaning into culture, no matter the risks.

“I'd like to say that it's unfair, but in truth, it's just been a long time coming. If you played on YouTube you'd understand!”

She concludes that this should serve as a cautionary tale to agencies, brands, and influencers. Even though music has become a natural part of TikTok culture and trends, the rights for commercial use are serious business. 

“These lawsuits are not ones you want to be battling off,” says Flint.

We have extensively covered the ins-and-outs of music licensing for performance and creator marketing here. Make sure you don’t end up in a legal battle with a record label!

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