NMPA, Downtown, and Others Back Universal Music in TikTok Licensing Dispute As Potential Industry Confrontation Takes Shape

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NMPA head David Israelite.

Less than one week removed from the start of the Universal Music-TikTok licensing showdown, multiple industry organizations and companies have come out in support of the major label.

The likes of the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) and Downtown Music are backing Universal Music Group (UMG) in the much-publicized disagreement, which, as we reported, kicked off with an open letter last week.

In the message, Universal Music took aim at the allegedly low-value offer(s) it’d received from TikTok, besides the app’s alleged AI-content and user-safety shortcomings. Not long thereafter, amid a congressional testimony from its CEO, ByteDance-owned TikTok fired back against the claims, accusing UMG of prioritizing “greed” over valuable artist-promotion opportunities.

Of course, the dispute has hardly been limited to a war of words; Universal Music’s catalog has abruptly exited TikTok, including disappearing from all manner of now-muted videos. Predictably, many fans are less than thrilled with the latter development and the wider situation, which looks to be beginning to evolve into an industry-versus-TikTok confrontation.

During the 66th Grammys ceremony yesterday evening, an otherwise highly positive Trevor Noah dedicated a portion of his opening monologue to addressing the TikTok situation – with the involved remarks, notwithstanding a statement-ending crack about Spotify, reading more like a rebuke than a joke.

“That’s right, the Grammys has everyone,” the Spotify podcaster said. “Unlike TikTok. Yeah, cuz I mean, you saw that, right? Universal has just pulled all of their artists off of TikTok. All the music is off TikTok.

“So right now, the CEO of TikTok is probably sitting at home watching this show, eating ice cream, crying. Seeing all of his exes in one room.

“And you know what, TikTok? Shame on you. Shame on you for ripping off all of these artists. Yeah. Shame. On. You. How dare you do that. That’s Spotify’s job,” proceeded the comedian.

As mentioned, this pushback isn’t limited to relatively brief comments delivered during the Grammys.

Bearing in mind the role of Universal Music (plus Warner Music and Sony Music) in setting the tone for industry-wide UGC-platform licensing discussions – one of several topics covered throughout our missing-payments mini-conference – the NMPA and Downtown have weighed in as well.

“Music is a driving force behind TikTok’s success, and it is extremely unfortunate that TikTok does not seem to value the music creators that fuel its business,” said NMPA president and CEO David Israelite, whose organization represents the majors’ publishing units as well as a number of larger indies.

“We believe songwriters should be valued and compensated fairly, and artificial intelligence should never be used to dilute the value of human creativity,” concluded Israelite. “We have seen other social media platforms make the mistake of claiming promotion should substitute for fair compensation. It’s a losing argument and it is wrong.”

Meanwhile, Downtown Music Holdings CEO Andrew Bergman, whose company’s namesake publishing subsidiary signed Spirit Music to a global admin deal in January, called out TikTok’s conduct “over the last several years.”

“At Downtown, we strive to ensure that artists, songwriters and rights holders are equitably compensated for their creative endeavors,” relayed Bergman. “Over the last several years, despite the meteoric success of the platform, this has not been the case with TikTok. It’s time to re-calibrate the partnership between the music industry and TikTok to re-balance the ledger.”

Needless to say, it’ll be worth closely monitoring the increasingly multidimensional TikTok-Universal Music showdown moving forward. And as something of a largely overlooked aside, the growing industry rift with TikTok underscores Warner Music’s new operational style under CEO Robert Kyncl; WMG and the short-form app finalized an expansive pact over the summer.