All Your Favorite Movies Are Already on TikTok

Cady Heron, the protagonist of the 2004 comedy “Mean Girls,” was the new kid in town once again.

This time she didn’t wander into an intimidating high school cafeteria full of cliques, but onto TikTok, where Paramount Pictures released the movie on Wednesday in 23 snippets ranging from 60 seconds to nearly 10 minutes.

Viewers of the clips watched Lindsay Lohan wear pink on Wednesdays and notify her crush that it was Oct. 3 — a date known as “Mean Girls Day” by the movie’s die-hards.

“Mean Girls” was the rare studio-sanctioned addition to the thriving ecosystem of pirated films on TikTok. Paramount’s decision to upload “Mean Girls” was an indication of Hollywood’s willingness to play along.

At least, up to a point. By Thursday, Oct. 4, Paramount had taken the film down.

TikTok is awash in clips ripped from movies and TV shows, despite its rules against copyright infringement. In an email, a TikTok representative said the platform works with studios to remove copyrighted materials and will ban accounts that repeatedly violate intellectual property policies.

Uploaders modify clips in an effort to get around the restrictions. The modifications include cropping or adding a filter. Some change the film speed, which makes the characters sound like they belong in “Alvin and the Chipmunks.”

Still, people are using the app to watch chopped-up movies and shows they might have otherwise ignored. Elizabeth Kidd, 31, said she got hooked on “Call the Midwife,” a BBC drama, thanks to TikTok.

The TikTok-ified version cuts out the parts of the show that might test the patience of some viewers — and Ms. Kidd was fine with that. “When you’re just getting the one character that you’re following, instead of having to do the whole arc of every episode, it just scratches my brain,” she said.

Alex Kim, a 25-year-old TikTok creator and pediatric nurse, said he had found himself watching movies without learning their titles. He described a film starring Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell that he believed to be “Love, Actually.” (Reader, it was “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”)

Also circulating on TikTok? Clips of the period romance “Brooklyn,” the reality show “Sister Wives” and the Pixar movie “Up.” Videos under the hashtag #movieclips have nearly 200 billion views on the app.

Even without Paramount’s help, it was easy for users to watch the full one hour and 47 minutes of “Mean Girls” on TikTok. The movie was posted in May by an anonymous movie-clips account with more than 300,000 followers, and the clips have been viewed more than 50 million times. The account owner, who did not respond to a request for comment, has also made it possible for viewers to inch their way through “Freaky Friday” and “High School Musical.”

Paramount was probably aware that “Mean Girls” had been uploaded to TikTok, said Alex Alben, a professor of internet and privacy law at the UCLA School of Law.

“The calculus appears to be changing,” Mr. Alben said. “Somebody at the studio is doing the calculation that they benefit more from millions of people viewing a snippet of their film than if they tried to shut it down.”

A Paramount representative wrote in an email that the one-day run of “Mean Girls” on TikTok was meant to raise awareness of the film for a potential new audience.

Other entertainment companies have experimented with TikTok. In August, Peacock posted a 2023 episode of the American version of “Love Island” and the 2022 pilot of “Killing It,” a comedy series, in five parts.

Michael D. Smith, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who conducts research on digital piracy, said it made sense for studios to use the platform to generate buzz for older films, rather than new ones. The same day that “Mean Girls” landed on TikTok, Paramount announced that a movie based on its musical adaptation would be released Jan. 12.

While the Paramount-sanctioned appearance of “Mean Girls” on TikTok was cheered by some fans, it landed with a thud among some writers and filmmakers. Rebecca Green, 44, a producer in Detroit, said that there was a feeling of “disrespect” among some filmmakers at the idea that a studio would slice a movie into parts and make it available for free.

She also raised the issue of whether writers, actors, directors, producers and crew members would profit from a movie posted on social media. In an email, the Paramount representative said that people involved in “Mean Girls” would be paid residuals for the film’s appearance on TikTok.

For some TikTok users, the clips may send them back to the source. Ms. Kidd, for one, said she recently tried streaming whole episodes of “Call the Midwife.”

“I don’t want to say anything bad about it, because I know people love it, but it was the most boring thing I’ve ever watched,” she said.

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