TikTok at your own risk: the case of SailorJ and stolen art on TikTok (2023)

"If men find out we can shapeshift, they'll tell the church."

This is one of Jahkara Smith's most memorable lines from her best-known YouTube video titled "Contouring 101" which amassed over 4.4 million views beforeSmith deleted his accountem 2020.

“I don't know if you apply the contour before the rest of the makeup or after the rest of the makeup, but it doesn't matter; because men are stupid,” she jokes in the video in a mid-Atlantic accent.

Its explosive online popularity has defied expectations,To Maria Sueobserved, "because three of the worst things you can be online are: a woman, dark and loud.

Similar features in SailorJ atThe New York Times newspaper,The Daily Beast,fascination, eRefinaria29praised her cutting comments about patriarchy, sexism and racism, all made while mocking the very forum she used: beauty tutorials, which by their nature support aindustrywhich is primarily run by white women and neglects black women (despite the fact that black women spend up tonine times more in beautyand hair care than white women).

In 2018, Smith saidTo Maria Sue, "For some reason I feel like my time is running out, or people will forget about me and I won't have the same opportunities again. That sort of thing." But at 21, Smith, aka Sailor J on YouTube, felt she captured a moment to draw attention to society's ethnocentric beauty standards and the patriarchal implications that a woman only cares about beauty products to attract a man. man.

"Men can't know we wear makeup. It will all end for all of us. The universe will stop. Reproduction will cease", says Smith at the opening of her first makeup tutorial, entitled "Getting a Man 101", which has accumulated more than 2.2 million views.

The question, she says as she aggressively taps her face with a beauty blender: “If you don't look like a white beauty blogger, then that's it for you."Despite deleting her content from YouTube, she retains the 500,000 subscribers who appreciated her comments.

On TikTok, however, his videos have seen something of a resurgence in popularity, with his "sailorj" online persona being used over 15.5 million times as a hashtag. The predominantly Gen Z - but increasingly millennial - platform is a hybrid of SnapChat and Vine, between video diary and sketch comedy, with users posting dance trends, challenges, quips orpolitical commentary.

At some point, audio clips from several of Smith's videos were uploaded to the platform, where millions of users lip-synced their satire — and to Smith, they're all "shit thieves."

TikTok at your own risk: the case of SailorJ and stolen art on TikTok (1)YouTube "SailorJ"

TikTok at your own risk: the case of SailorJ and stolen art on TikTok (2)YouTube, "SailorJ"

In January 2020, Smith made it clear that he does not approve of any of his content being appropriated by TikTok users. "Absolutely no one on TikTok or any other platform has my permission to take down this video for any audio or visual purpose," she posted in the comments of her "Contouring 101" video.

When responses ranged from solidarity and promises to let TikTokers know their wishes to criticism that she should be grateful for the publicity, she added: "And no, I'm not grateful that people are stealing because I don't make videos because of having other people like them/me."

TikTok is, likeWireddescribed, "a copyright law nightmare." In many ways,the platform is designed to plagiarize.With its participatory nature that allows users to respond to other videos or reuse audio, it exists in an obscure space of fair use and monetization.

“TikTok is not offering a new service and then struggling to monetize it, it is cashing in on a culture that other platforms frown upon,” he writes.Wired."The (sometimes problematic) appeal is in taking something that doesn't belong to you and tweaking it until it's yours - an endless cycle of remixes of remixes, like a meme." As a music-focused platform (TikTok acquired the short-lived appmusically, after all), the company has partnered with record labels to license existing music as well as new music from debuting artists for a low price.

But while lip-syncing to the app's licensed music library prevents (for thein the most part) risky copyright issues, millions of videos use sound from other creators. The problem with using Sailor J's material is that, as she pointed out to one commenter, she has never uploaded her content to TikTok - meaning her material is completely out of the company's reach.terms and services.

One of the reasons TikTok succeeds in encouraging lip-syncing and monetizing meme culture is the way it defines its terms., from protecting TikTok's own branded material to establishing 23 rules for "Your access to and use of our services" as well as extensive descriptions of user-generated content.

Namely, if a creator has a TikTok account, then their material is free for use by other TikTok creators: "Users of the Services may also mine all or any portion of User Content created by another user to produce additional User Content, including collaborative User Content Content with other users that combines and merges User Content generated by more than one user."

So what can Smith do about his unwitting and exploitative TikTok popularity? She can send TikTok a takedown request due to copyright infringement; in 2019, the company apparently received 3,345 such notifications, according to the firstTransparency Report. They claim to have responded to 85% of content removal requests.

"Now you can tell the truth and stop contributing to me being exploited by an entire APP around the world without my permission," Smith wrote in the comments of his outline video before his final deletion.

The YouTuber-turned-actress (and former Air Force soldier) has joined the cast of the AMC horror dramaNOS4A2and starred in the second season of HuluIn the dark.She no longer had time to create content for her YouTube channel and tweeted in 2020 that she was "doing something bigger”, but the problems of being an influencer only intensified with her involuntary crossover on social media.

“Makeup is also a form of appropriation,” she said.The New York Times newspaperem 2018.Playing with identity and changing one's ownShape is a fundamental aspect of the beauty industry, often manipulated to exploit people's vanity,insecurities and a desire to get under someone else's skin, if only under a chemical layer.

Speaking about the intense backlash she received for her social criticism in her spoofs, she said: "I don't want those kinds of people watching me anyway. The problem with YouTube is that you almost can't be yourself if you want to become yourself. it in terms of career."

Now with more689 millionusers and 2 billion downloads, the estimated value of TikTok surpassed $75 billion in 2018, making its owner, ByteDance, the most valuable private company in the world. With over 1 million videos viewed every day, almost no one online is really being themselves.

But therein lies the appeal of lip-syncing: someone pretending to be someone they're not, but in such a kitschy way that it's not inauthentic – it's mocking inauthenticity.

Quartzcalls it a delightful form of "cognitive dissonance" that is "unapologetically cheesy" while showing that "identity can be unapologetically fluid." More specifically, at a time when we are still floundering in our attempts to be inclusive but not overly corrective, reigningcancel culturewhile still policing instances of cultural appropriation, lip-syncing content "strikes an upbeat, almost utopian chord of borrowing and free borrowing".

While this opens up the creative property to play around with while we're home on a sick day (just as Smith did when he shot his first video in less than an hour on a whim), the fluid acting-based content means that the original creators are further behind than ever as users confuse public content to mean it is copyright free. But, fittingly, TikTok's Terms and Services also include this disclaimer: "You acknowledge and agree that when viewing content provided by third parties on the Services, you do so at your own risk."

Editor's Note: This article was last updated May 16, 2021 and was originally published in February 2020.

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