Triller Removes Music From the Major Labels and Merlin Amid Unpaid-Royalties Rumors

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Photo Credit: Triller

About three months after being named in a multimillion-dollar copyright infringement lawsuit filed by Sony Music, Triller has officially removed the music of the Big Three labels as well as Merlin.

This latest music-related obstacle for Triller, which was also embroiled in a months-long licensing standoff with Universal Music last year, just recently came to light in multiple reports and social media posts. At the time of writing, nearly all the music in Triller’s song library looked to have been released by (non-Merlin) indie acts.

Nevertheless, at least some previously posted Triller videos featuring commercially prominent tracks appear to contain their original audio. (As an interesting aside, clips begin playing without audio immediately after one clicks them on the desktop version of Triller, and users must manually enable and adjust the volume.) Additionally, notwithstanding today’s high-profile song removals, evidence suggests that the app has been disabling access to certain music since late October.

According to widely reported comments from anonymous major-label sources with knowledge of the matter, the Triller pulldowns resulted from a substantial amount of unpaid royalties. But Triller – which signaled earlier in 2022 that it intended to spearhead an IPO in the fourth quarter – pushed back against this explanation in a verbose (and hastily written) statement provided to Billboard.

“The accusation that we are taking down music because of millions of unpaid royalties is simply not true,” the unedited remarks read in part. “We have current active agreements with universal and warner music which is more than 65 percent of the used popular music. We are hopeful and optimistic that when these deals expire we can come to arrangements that do not involve tens of millions in annual payments rather a revenue split.

“As to Triller taking down music in general, we can confirm we assessed the app usage and a very small percentage of our users use the major label music as most of our users enjoy to make their own content with OG sounds and to upload on their own,” the lengthy response proceeds.

From there, the almost 500-word-long rebuttal describes the purportedly limited on-platform reach of Merlin’s main music genres (it “makes no sense for Triller to continue spending tens of millions of dollars a year for music virtually no one uses on Triller”) and reiterates once more that the TikTok rival does in fact have agreements in place with UMG and WMG at present.

“We actively have removed a portion of major label music, as our deals come up, and are assessing each renewal as they come up, each on a case by case basis,” Triller explained of the song takedowns. “It has not changed our app usage as [sic] all. The numbers speak for themselves.

“Ae [sic] we approach being a public company this move saves triller tens of millions of dollars per year, without taking away anything from the user experience or hurting our numbers. Quite the opposite it increasese [sic] our bottom line by 30 plus million dollars per year.

“We are assessing a ‘Spotify like model’, which would include a revenue share versus large cash paymentsas [sic] our agreements come up for renewal,” the text continues.

In September, Triller settled a $28 million lawsuit filed by Verzuz creators Swizz Beatz and Timbaland. Meanwhile, the short-form app’s foremost competitor, TikTok, is facing operational difficulties of its own amid growing user-data security concerns.