TikTok Fires Back Against Universal Music Amid Licensing Standoff — As Headlines Lament Taylor Swift Music’s Potential Exit from the Platform

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universal music tiktok
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TikTok has taken aim at Universal Music amid a licensing standoff that seems likely to result in the removal of works from Taylor Swift, Drake, Olivia Rodrigo, and many others. Photo Credit: BoliviaInteligente

Yesterday, Universal Music announced the termination of its TikTok licensing deal. Now, with more than a few headlines drawing attention to the seemingly imminent exit of Taylor Swift tracks in particular, TikTok has fired back.

The controversial short-form app just recently penned a firmly worded response to Universal Music’s open letter on the subject. As we previously reported, the latter message pointed to, among other things, alleged “bullying” tactics from TikTok as well as a purportedly lowball offer (specifically, “a rate that is a fraction of the rate that similarly situated major social platforms”) when explaining the dispute.

Of course, assuming these and similar remarks are accurate, the apparent disagreement shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to seasoned observers. TikTok has for some time been tossing its weight around in the music space, including with expansions into streaming, distribution, emerging-artist programs, talent discovery, live events, AI song creation, Nashville’s Music Row, pertinent partnerships, and much else.

Notably, the buildouts and allegedly aggressive negotiating tactics didn’t prevent the platform from inking high-profile pacts with DistroKid and Warner Music Group last year.

Returning to TikTok’s retort, the company in a 91-word statement (compared to the better part of 900 words for Universal Music’s open letter) took aim at the leading music business and its description of the matter.

“It is sad and disappointing that Universal Music Group has put their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters,” wrote 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 has been able to reach ‘artist-first’ agreements with every other label and publisher. Clearly, Universal’s self-serving actions are not in the best interests of artists, songwriters and fans,” concluded the ByteDance subsidiary.

Needless to say, these comments don’t appear to suggest that a compromise is in the near-term cards. And with Universal Music having relayed that the existing licensing agreement will expire today, it’ll be interesting to see whether fan comments and feedback will impact the decidedly public rift’s trajectory when the relevant catalog is actually removed.

As mentioned, more than a few headlines and social posts are lamenting the development’s effect regarding the on-platform availability of Taylor Swift tracks in particular.

While the situation will also affect projects from many others, Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, Drake, Bad Bunny, and The Weeknd chief among them, evidence indicates that amped-up Swifties both constitute a sizable share of TikTok’s usership and are particularly upset about the news.

In the coming days, it’ll be worth closely following the overall response from ticked-off TikTokers – with a longer-term eye on potential usership implications.