TikTok Is Full of Makeup Looks. But Who Owns Them?

Alessandro Cardoso, a 22-year-old makeup artist from Miami with over 840,000 followers on TikTok, has “a lot of feelings” about people who copy his work on the app without credit. One would imagine those feelings are not exactly positive. But that’s not actually the case.“It’s a copycat app,” Cardoso said, shrugging off the idea that…

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Alessandro Cardoso, a 22-year-old makeup artist from Miami with over 840,000 followers on TikTok, has “a lot of feelings” about people who copy his work on the app without credit. One would imagine those feelings are not exactly positive. But that’s not actually the case.

“It’s a copycat app,” Cardoso said, shrugging off the idea that he needs to be credited for every trend. “It wouldn’t be fun—it would almost feel like homework finding someone who made the biggest trend since everyone is doing it. It’s impossible to always be crediting someone, to make sure everyone’s getting their flowers, when people are going viral every second and it’s totally random.”

There are some exceptions, Cardoso noted. “The Renegade,” a TikTok dance created by Jalaiah Harmon, a 14-year-old from Fayetteville, North Carolina, whose credit was unfairly stripped from videos of Lizzo, Kim Kardashian, and Charli D’Amelio performing it themselves. As Taylor Lorenz wrote in her profile of Harmon for The New York Times last year, Harmon watched as her dance went insanely viral, and was mocked when she would ask for a credit in comments of videos.

Harmon’s story was indicative of how many Black TikTok creators feel: overlooked and undervalued, which has led many to leave the app for other platforms or take part in a TikTok strike last summer.

Cardoso believes the beauty world is a little different. When it comes to crediting makeup videos, “it’s a case-by-case thing.”

“If a massive influencer is taking inspiration from anyone, and that other person could benefit from it, then yes, they should credit it,” he said. “If there are multiple people hopping on a trend and making it their own—for instance, it’s trending right now in the beauty community to do a makeup look for your Zodiac sign—well, everyone’s doing it. It’s about the art, and I want to see what people come up with.”

If I see another creator post something I do, the same idea, worded differently, with their own opinion—well, I don’t deserve to be credited for that. It’s so nitpicky.

Unlike dances or comedy videos, there are only so many ways to do makeup. Sure, people can get creative. The weirder the better on TikTok—it’s one reason why people were drawing dark circles under their eyes, calling bags “a cute trend,” earlier this year—but for the most part, all makeup looks are rehashed from something that has been done for decades. It is tougher to be truly original.

“I see content all the time that’s very familiar to mine, but that’s because makeup is such a broad topic,” Cardoso said. “If I see another creator post something I do, the same idea, worded differently, with their own opinion—well, I don’t deserve to be credited for that. It’s so nitpicky.”

Whether or not a makeup look—something that doesn’t live forever, and gets washed away at the end of the day—can be “stolen” has been the subject of debate ever since makeup artists became their own genre of online celebrities. The law has yet to catch up with them.

A 2000 case in the United States District Court of New York found that the original makeup art for the Broadway show Cats was protected under copyright law because the intricate, distinctive look, took eight layers of makeup and “was found to be an original work of authorship that is fixed in a tangible medium,” according to The Center for Art Law.

But under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), which was passed in 1990, a copyrighted piece must have “sufficient originality.” So a makeup look that is widely used, even if it hasn’t popped up on TikTok yet, does not fall within this category. Crediting a makeup artist for their work online is polite, but in most cases, it is not a legal necessity in the same way that crediting a photographer would be.

(TikTok dances, it should be noted, can be trademarked under the revised Copyright Act of 1976—so long as they are full routines, not just individual steps. Keara Wilson, who created the moves for the viral “Savage” dance, has announced she will copyright her work. Last year, “Single Ladies” choreographer JaQuel Knight secured a copyright for that dance, making him the first commercial dancer working in pop music to do so.)

The legal haziness means that it most instances, copycats will not face legal action—but they will have to deal with the wrath of the internet. In 2016, Snapchat was accused of ripping off independent artists’ work with their makeup filters. Representatives for the company would soon apologize and install “additional layers of review” for new designs.

The Belgian makeup artist Peter Philips, who serves as the creative director of Christian Dior Makeup, applied tiny crystal rhinestones on the eyelids of models for a spring 2018 Dries Van Noten runway show. The look became very popular, with the likes of Valentino, Rodarte, and Jeremy Scott rehashing it on their runways.

Philips told Fashionista, “I do respect the skills of people [re]doing my makeup, but on the other hand, I feel you miss out on something because doing our job is not only about repeating and what’s been done. That could be a starting point to push it further — that’s just the fun of it.”

Even Rihanna got caught in the crossfires of a “stolen” makeup debate, when the controversial Instagram page @DietPrada accused her makeup artist Priscilla Ono of “replicating” a bedazzled tongue look that appeared similar to one by the artist Yadim for I-D in 2014. The response, according to many commentators on the page: a collective so what. “Fashion repeats itself,” many wrote in reply.

Last year, a New York Second Circuit court declined to hear a case where the makeup artist Sammy Mourabit accused the photographer Steven Klein and brand Shiseido, Inc. of recycling a beauty look he did for Juliette Lewis’ 2013 W Magazine cover for a 2015 holiday campaign without his credit.

“I think the idea of ‘crediting’ a beauty creator is tricky,” Elizabeth Credno, a 46 year-old makeup artist who lives in Washington, DC, and has 142,000 followers on TikTok, said. “I have yet to see a ‘new’ [beauty] trend. Artists are constantly being credited for things they didn’t create. These techniques have been around for years. Just because someone shared something on TikTok doesn’t mean it wasn’t taught in beauty school 30 years ago.”

But Credno also believes in creating a “supportive community” on TikTok. “I think crediting an artist for their application of a technique, or for inspiring someone to try it again, is important,” she added. “That makes it fun for our followers. They love to see artists vibing and crediting each other. It creates a happy and fun atmosphere.”

Destiny Richie, a 23 year old from Texas with over 24,000 followers on TikTok, posted a video that showed her peeling off her makeup with liquid latex, a flexible prosthetic often used in film and theater to create fake wounds and prosthetics. The creepy-but-satisfying clip was viewed 3.5 million times, and inspired other creators to jump on the trend as well.

Bel Marie, a 22-year-old, self-taught special effects makeup artist with over 1 million followers on TikTok, also posts similar videos showing her peeling off liquid latex. Richie said she was unaware of Marie’s videos before she made her own. The pair had a friendly exchange in the comment section of Richie’s video, with Marie writing, “I’m not mad in anyway [SIC] just love seeing the trend.” (Marie did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.)

“In the beauty community there is only so much you can do,” Richie said. “It’s not unusual for more than one person to have the same idea, especially when it comes to stuff that is pretty basic. I think as long as you thought of something yourself and weren’t inspired by someone else, then you should get your credit if people are inspired by you.”

Richie said that she believes “it is very important to credit creators, especially when it comes to super original ideas. We put in so much time and effort into our work and to not be credited is like a stab in the back.”

Ultimately, neither Marie or Richie came up with the idea of playing around with liquid latex, which has been used by special effects artists for decades. The hashtag has been viewed over 62.9 million times, with countless other creators using the product on themselves.

As with anything on TikTok, an idea is only as good as its packaging: even if something isn’t totally new, it can be repackaged in an algorithm-friendly way that gains the attention of new eyeballs.

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