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Dubsmash Creators Of Color Say They Deserve Credit — And Money — On TikTok


Who owns the dance moves in a viral video? That's a battle being fought on Internet video apps where even one popular hit can lead to a nice payday. Well, Black and brown creators on the lesser-known app Dubsmash say their moves aren't credited on the viral giant TikTok. NPR's Bobby Allyn reports.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Serena Reese (ph) is a 21-year-old in Miami who loves choreography. She records videos of herself doing elaborate dance moves and putting her own spin on routines, like to the song "Everytime Tha Beat Drop" by R&B artist Monica.


SERENA REESE: So I'll put the video of the original next to mine and let people see how well I adapt to the same movements. And it kind of goes off of inspiration. People think, oh, they're famous. I can't dance like them. But really, all you have to do is just go ahead and do it.

ALLYN: She began recording herself dancing for the app Dubsmash. She's part of a large community of mostly young Black creators who call themselves Dubsmashers. When TikTok started taking off, Reese got that app, too, but started noticing that moves that were first posted to Dubsmash...

REESE: Somehow it ends up on TikTok with a white creator. And we're like, well, it was here first.

ALLYN: It's really hard to know sometimes who originally created any particular trend. But Black and brown creators say dance moves they popularized on smaller apps like Dubsmash end up finding huge audiences when performed by white creators on TikTok.

KADISHA PHILLIPS: It happens a lot, where there are these smaller Black creators who come up with something that's really great, and it's co-opted, right? Some people say it's like a colonization of culture.

ALLYN: Social media strategist Kadisha Phillips says this matters because popular influencers land advertising and brand deals worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. TikTok influencer Charli D'Amelio created an Internet trend with her dance to the song "Renegade" (ph) by the artist K Camp. But the white 16-year-old from Connecticut was copying the moves of a Black creator from Atlanta, Jalaiah Harmon, without credit. Here's Phillips again.

PHILLIPS: That means that there are more eyeballs on their content, their followings are growing, and ultimately they're making more money.

ALLYN: Teenager D'Amelio is now a multimillionaire with her own merchandise line. She's appeared on a Super Bowl ad for hummus. New York-based Dubsmash says a quarter of Black teens in the U.S. are on the app. That attracted the attention of popular message board Reddit, which acquired Dubsmash this month. In Queens, 13-year-old Nicole Gonzalez has more than 250,000 followers on Dubsmash on the strength of her dance moves. She begrudgingly agrees to the influencer title.

NICOLE GONZALEZ: I guess - not, like, an influencer like other influencers. I would say, like, a small influencer, definitely.

ALLYN: Gonzalez, who is Latina, says it feels like a welcome place to try out new and experimental ideas.

GONZALEZ: Like, you don't really get judged there. You could do whatever you want. You can do acting, dancing.

ALLYN: But Gonzalez and Reese are also on TikTok and both make money on the apps. Still, Reese says, not getting credit for original work means lost money.

REESE: It baffles me how they have all the recognition, and we go in the shadows of, you know, their content. But we created it, you know?

ALLYN: Reese says while rip-offs are still happening, some are coming around. Charli D'Amelio owned up to that Renegade video, and now she gives credit to the creators of her viral moves. Bobby Allyn, NPR News, San Francisco.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.