Have you noticed that your TikTok FYP has gotten quieter?
Universal Music Group — home to artists like Taylor Swift, Drake, BTS, Bad Bunny, Ariana Grande, Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish, Justin Bieber, Karol G, and many more — announced it had failed to reach a new licensing agreement with TikTok, which will result in the removal of the company's entire catalog from videos used in the app.
UMG's existing licensing contract with TikTok officially expired on January 31, 2024. The previous day, the music giant released an open letter notifying artists that their renewal negotiations were unsuccessful, citing "TikTok’s unwillingness to appropriately compensate artists and songwriters, protect human artists from the harmful effects of AI, and address online safety issues for TikTok’s users" as the main reasons for the disagreements.
Slowly but surely, TikTok has become a key player when it comes to music promotion, but that could be changing. As Billboard notes, TikTok and UMG's prior licensing agreement covered both recorded music and publishing holdings. "When the company pulls that catalog, it will pull any song any of the songwriters it represents contributed to as well, impacting many other labels and publishers in the coming weeks," the music publication noted.
As K-pop fans would recall, last year, a slew of songs by Korean acts disappeared from Spotify’s streaming catalog without prior notice after the streamer's global licensing agreement expired, which is similar to what happened to UMG's catalog on TikTok. As noted by Wired, UMG's failure to strike a new deal with TikTok has affected both new and old videos, with any content that contains music from UMG having its audio removed retroactively.
"TikTok's success as one of the world's largest social platforms has been built in large part on the music created by our artists and songwriters. Its senior executives proudly state publicly that 'music is at the heart of the TikTok experience' and our analysis confirms that the majority of content on TikTok contains music, more than any other major social platform," UMG's open letter reads.
The company, which is the largest recording company in the world, stated that despite the undeniable exposure, "TikTok accounts for only about 1% of [UMG's] total revenue" and concluded by saying that “ultimately TikTok is trying to build a music-based business, without paying fair value for the music.” In the open letter, UMG claims it proposed TikTok solutions for all issues outlined above, but they were met with "indifference" and "intimidation."
"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. 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," UMG claims. “TikTok's tactics are obvious: use its platform power to hurt vulnerable artists and try to intimidate us into conceding to a bad deal that undervalues music and shortchanges artists and songwriters as well as their fans. We will never do that. We will always fight for our artists and songwriters and stand up for the creative and commercial value of music.”
Just hours after the company's open letter was published, TikTok called UMG out for its “false narrative and rhetoric” in a response statement. "It is sad and disappointing that Universal Music Group has put their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters," TikTok's statement reads. “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.”
UMG fired back at TikTok on February 1, releasing a statement to Billboard calling TikTok's views on music licensing “woefully outdated.”
“Even though TikTok (formerly Musical.ly) has built one of the world’s largest and most valuable social media platforms off the backs of artists and songwriters, TikTok still argues that artists should be grateful for the ‘free promotion’ and that music companies are ‘greedy’ for expecting them to simply compensate artists and songwriters appropriately, and on similar levels as other social media platforms currently do,” a spokesperson for UMG told the publication. "TikTok didn’t even attempt to address the other issues we raised regarding harmful AI and platform safety. It’s no surprise that artist rights advocates are speaking out in support of our action.”
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue
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