The Copyright Frontier of TikTok Cinema

Madeline Gatto

Not only has TikTok become Gen Z’s go-to search engine, but it has also recently become the go-to streaming service for television shows and movies.

There has been a growing trend on TikTok where users post clips of an entire movie or TV series in tens or even hundreds of short clips.[1] Just by searching a title and “full movie” in the TikTok search bar, users have access to thousands of movies or TV shows broken up into short segments. It may seem baffling as to why people would prefer to watch movies or TV shows this way—on a tiny screen and having to actively scroll between each clip. Some critics are attributing the puzzling phenomenon to the development of short attention spans due to TikTok providing stimulation in short bursts.[2] Others are highlighting the sense of community fostered by the ability to read comments left by other users while watching.[3] Another contributing factor could be the fact that the algorithm serves users the content already playing so they are immediately captivated, opposed to the at times frustrating process of having to select a show to watch amongst hundreds of choices on a traditional streaming platform. Even if the reasoning behind this phenomenon is unclear, it is undeniable that it is happening and having implications for the entertainment industry.

Even studios are participating in this trend. On October 3, 2023, Paramount Pictures posted Mean Girls in twenty-three parts ranging from sixty seconds to ten minutes.[4] The studio claimed that they participated in this phenomenon as a marketing tactic to reach a new audience.[5] The studio received some backlash from members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), who were concerned about residuals.[6] Screenwriter Van Robichaux claimed in a tweet, “If they posted the whole movie in one post, they’d have to pay a residual to the cast and writer and director. By breaking it into short chunks, even still posting it at all, they can abuse a contract loophole intended for playing clips on talk shows.”[7] Going forward, industry standards will likely adapt to account for this form of distribution becoming more widespread.

Much more commonly, the clips users see on their For You Page are pirated.[8] These unauthorized clips have flooded TikTok and there are many accounts dedicated to this type of content that have amassed hundreds of thousands of followers. Users often modify the clips by cropping, speeding up, or mirroring the clips in an effort to avoid detection. These accounts are violating copyright law as well as TikTok’s terms of use. TikTok’s terms of use state “TikTok respects the intellectual property (IP) rights of others, and we expect you to do the same. Our Terms of Service and Community Guidelines do not allow posting, sharing, or sending any content that violates or infringes upon someone else's copyrights, trademarks, or other IP rights.”

However, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) “safe harbor” provision (§512) limits the liability of online service providers for copyright infringement. An online service provider is “an entity offering the transmission, routing, or providing of connections for digital online communications, between or among points specified by a user, of material of the user's choosing, without modification to the content of the material as sent or received.”[9] (§512(k) (1)(A)). TikTok likely falls under the definition of online service provider and therefore is only responsible for giving copyright holders a way to report violations and acting expeditiously to remove infringing material once it is notified. Thus, the copyright holders bear the burden of monitoring the platform and filing claims regarding infringing videos.

Because it is up to the copyright holders to monitor the platform, which can prove difficult when the infringers are using methods to avoid detection, and there are compelling arguments that the pirating is actually beneficial for the copyright holders from a marketing standpoint, it is likely that we will continue to see these short movie and TV show clips on our For You Pages.


[1] Audrey Schomer, Why People Are Watching Shows and Movies on TikTok, Variety (Sept. 21, 2023), [] [].

[2] Sofia Barnett, The Newest Threat to Your Attention Span? TikTok ‘Dual’ Videos, Wired (Aug. 10, 2023), [No Permalink Available] [].

[3] Brian Welk, Paramount Knows Exactly What It’s Doing Putting Mean Girls’ on TikTok in Full, IndieWire (Oct. 3, 2023), [] [].

[4] Callie Holtermann and Madison Malone Kircher, ‘Mean Girls’ Has a One-Day Run on TikTok, N.Y. Times, [] [].

[5] Id.

[6] Carlos de Loera, ‘Mean Girls’ Being Free on TikTok Raised Residuals Questions, L.A. Times (Oct. 5, 2023), [] [].

[7] @VanTheBrand, Twitter (Oct. 3, 2023, 1:34 PM), [] [].

[8] Ann-Marie Alcántara, People Are Streaming Pirated Movies on TikTok, One Short Clip at a Time, Wall St. J., [] [].

[9] 17 U.S.C. § 512(k)(1)(A)