Look what you made me do: TikTok as of Feb. 1 started to remove all music from Universal Music Group from the short-form video platform, including song catalogs of artists ranging from Taylor Swift to Bob Dylan.
The removal of UMG’s content from TikTok comes after the two companies failed to renew a licensing pact that expired Jan. 31. Universal Music accused TikTok of trying to “bully” the music company into a deal worth less than their previous agreement — and alleged TikTok was not willing to address AI and piracy concerns. TikTok blasted “Universal’s false narrative and rhetoric” and said in a statement, “It is sad and disappointing that Universal Music Group has put their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters.”
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With the licensing agreement with UMG having expired, all music by artists licensed to Universal Music Group will be removed from TikTok’s General Music Library, and all videos containing music licensed by Universal will be muted. The removals for now affected only recorded music licensed to UMG; if the companies can’t reach a deal soon, TikTok will be forced to pull content licensed from the Universal Music Publishing Group catalog as well.
Universal Music Group artists include Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny, Sting, The Weeknd, Alicia Keys, SZA, Steve Lacy, Drake, Billie Eilish, Kendrick Lamar, Rosalía, Harry Styles, Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber, Adele, U2, Elton John, J Balvin, Brandi Carlile, Coldplay, Pearl Jam, Bob Dylan and Post Malone.
In a statement Thursday, a Universal Music rep said, “Our agreements with TikTok have expired because of 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.” The spokesperson’s statement continued, “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.”
On Jan. 30, UMG issued a warning about its soon-to-expire agreement with TikTok and posted an open letter “to the artist and songwriter community” with the headline “Why We Must Call Time Out on TikTok.”
In the letter, the music company said that in its contract renewal discussions with TikTok, it has “been pressing them on three critical issues — appropriate compensation for our artists and songwriters, protecting human artists from the harmful effects of AI, and online safety for TikTok’s users.”
With respect to the issue of artist and songwriter compensation, TikTok “proposed paying our artists and songwriters at a rate that is a fraction of the rate that similarly situated major social platforms pay,” according to UMG’s letter. As an indication of “how little TikTok compensates artists and songwriters, despite its massive and growing user base, rapidly rising advertising revenue and increasing reliance on music-based content, TikTok accounts for only about 1% of our total revenue.”
“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,” UMG said in the letter. “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.”
TikTok, in its response, said it has clinched “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.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said songs by Harry Styles were removed by TikTok. Styles is signed with Universal Music Publishing Group; currently, TikTok is not removing content licensed from UMPG.
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