TikTok Creators Sue to Block U.S. Law Requiring Sale or Ban

The group, whose legal fees are being paid for by the company, said a ban of the app would violate their First Amendment rights.

Brian Firebaugh, wearing boots, jeans and a wide-brim hat, stands outside the U.S. Capital, holding a sign that says, “TikTok changed my life for the better.”
Eight TikTok creators who sued the federal government on Tuesday included Brian Firebaugh, who joined a pro-TikTok demonstration in March. Credit…Craig Hudson/Reuters

Sapna Maheshwari

A group of TikTok creators, including a rancher, a skin care entrepreneur and a promoter of biblical literacy, sued the federal government on Tuesday over a new law that would force the app’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, to sell the company or face a ban in the United States. They said it violated their First Amendment rights.

The eight creators “have found their voices, amassed significant audiences, made new friends and encountered new and different ways of thinking — all because of TikTok’s novel way of hosting, curating and disseminating speech,” the complaint says. The potential ban “threatens to deprive them, and the rest of the country, of this distinctive means of expression and communication.”

The suit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which the new law designated as the jurisdiction for challenges, was anticipated as the company’s next move after it filed its own lawsuit against the federal government last week, calling the law unconstitutional. TikTok said it was paying the legal fees for the creators’ lawsuit.

TikTok pursued a similar legal strategy in 2020, when creators successfully challenged a federal ban, as well as last year in Montana, when creators sued the state after it tried to ban the app. Davis Wright Tremaine, the law firm representing the creators, also represented the app’s creators in Montana last year.

TikTok is battling for its future in the United States after President Biden signed the law in April. Concerns had been escalating for years among lawmakers and intelligence officials that the Chinese government could lean on ByteDance to turn over sensitive TikTok user data or use the app to spread propaganda.

TikTok has pushed back on those claims and said it had spent billions of dollars to address security concerns. Many legal experts expect the wrangling over the law to reach the Supreme Court.

In a statement on Tuesday, a Justice Department spokeswoman said: “This legislation addresses critical national security concerns in a manner that is consistent with the First Amendment and other constitutional limitations. We look forward to defending the legislation in court.”

The creators’ suit said a divestment of TikTok from ByteDance was “infeasible, as the company has stated and as the publicly available record confirms.” It argued that the law was therefore a ban that would violate the First Amendment rights of its users.

Similar to TikTok’s suit last week, the complaint asked the court to issue a declaratory judgment saying the law violated the Constitution and to issue an order that would stop Attorney General Merrick B. Garland from enforcing it.

The creators represent a range of people who use the app in the United States, where, TikTok says, it has 170 million monthly users. They include Brian Firebaugh, a first-generation rancher in Texas, and Paul Tran, who runs a skin care brand with his wife. Other plaintiffs include Christopher Townsend, a hip-hop artist who shares biblical quizzes with his followers, and Kiera Spann, an advocate for sexual-assault survivors.

Mr. Firebaugh, who has more than 400,000 TikTok followers, “would need to get a different job and pay for day care instead of raising his son at home” without income from TikTok’s fund for popular creators and sales of ranch products offered through the app, the lawyers wrote. Mr. Townsend, who has 2.5 million followers, “faces losing the platform on which he is able to express his beliefs and share his spirituality and music with the world,” the complaint said.

The creators tried using other social media apps like Instagram “with far less success,” the complaint said. It also said TikTok’s “defining traits stem from the editorial decisions it makes using its proprietary content recommendation technology.” A change in ownership could “fundamentally” change users’ experiences.

The complaint also pointed to statements that lawmakers had made arguing that TikTok had pushed pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel views to its young users. “These arguments focus on censoring TikTok’s content recommendation system,” the complaint said, adding that there was not evidence that TikTok was pushing propaganda to Americans.

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Harry Byrne

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