Mainstream media coverage of the Universal Music Group vs. TikTok licensing row sees headlines like ‘Taylor Swift pulled from TikTok’ bringing global attention to the (lack of) licensing agreement. But the real ripples are only just beginning.
Universal Music Group has announced its intention to cease licensing its music to TikTok, accusing the short-form video platform of bullying and intimidation in its contract negotiations. A music licensing agreement between the two entities expired on Wednesday, January 31, and new terms have not been agreed upon — meaning UMG could pull its expansive music catalog, including hits from major artists like Taylor Swift, from TikTok.
In an open letter published on Wednesday, UMG said it had been “pressing” TikTok on three key points during contract discussions: “appropriate compensation for our artists and songwriters, protecting human artists from the harmful effects of AI, and online safety for TikTok’s users.”
UMG said that TikTok and its Chinese parent company ByteDance had proposed paying artists and songwriters “at a rate that is a fraction of the rate that similarly situated major social platforms pay.” Further, UMG asserts that only 1% of its revenue comes from TikTok, despite the platform’s ever-increasing user base, “rapidly rising advertising revenue, and increasing reliance on music-based content.”
TikTok is, according to UMG, also allowing its platform to be “flooded with AI-generated recordings,” in addition to developing tools to “enable, promote, and encourage AI music creation.” UMG also alleges that TikTok is “demanding a contractual right which would allow this content to massively dilute the royalty pool for human artists, in a move that is nothing short of sponsoring the artist replacement by AI.”
“When we proposed that TikTok takes similar steps as our other platform partners to try and address these issues, it responded first with indifference, and then with intimidation,” said UMG, adding that TikTok “makes little effort to deal with the vast amounts of content on its platform” that infringes on artists’ rights.
“As our negotiations continued, TikTok attempted to bully us into accepting a deal worth less than the previous deal, far less than fair market value and not reflective of their exponential growth,” UMG continued. “How did it try to intimidate us? By selectively removing the music of certain of our developing artists, while keeping on the platform our audience-driving global stars.”
But TikTok refutes those allegations, responding to UMG’s open letter on the same day.
“It is sad and disappointing that Universal Music Group has put their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters,” said TikTok. “Despite Universal’s false narrative and rhetoric, the fact is they have chosen to walk away from the powerful support of a platform with well over a billion users that serves as a free promotional and discovery vehicle for their talent.”
TikTok concludes that is has been able to reach “artist-first agreements with every other label and publisher,” having secured a licensing deal with Warner Music Group last year.