Universal Music Group, Taylor Swift’s label, to pull music from TikTok

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Taylor Swift attends a premiere for Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour in Los Angeles, California, U.S., October 11, 2023. 

Mario Anzuoni | Reuters

Universal Music Group said on Wednesday that it will cease licensing its music to TikTok and accused the short-form video giant of bullying and intimidation in its contract negotiations.

A music licensing agreement between UMG and TikTok, which is owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, expired on Wednesday, and new terms have not been agreed. This means that UMG could pull its music catalog from TikTok.

UMG said in an open letter published on Wednesday that it has been “pressing” TikTok during contract discussions on three issues — “appropriate compensation for our artists and songwriters, protecting human artists from the harmful effects of AI, and online safety for TikTok’s users.”

The music label, which represents megastars from Taylor Swift to Drake, said that TikTok proposed paying its artists and songwriters “at a rate that is a fraction of the rate that similarly situated major social platforms pay.” UMG said only 1% of its total revenue comes from TikTok, despite the social network’s “massive and growing user base, rapidly rising advertising revenue and increasing reliance on music-based content.”

UMG also alleged that TikTok is allowing its platform to be “flooded with AI-generated recordings,” as well as developing tools to “enable, promote and encourage AI music creation.” According to UMG, 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 artist replacement by AI.”

The music industry has been grappling with the rise of artificial intelligence, which can generate music and even mimic the voices of big artists.

UMG also said that TikTok “makes little effort to deal with the vast amounts of content on its platform that infringe” artists’ music.

The label company accused TikTok of bullying and intimidation tactics in contract negotiations.

“When we proposed that TikTok takes similar steps as our other platform partners to try to address these issues, it responded first with indifference, and then with intimidation,” UMG said.

“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.”

TikTok accuses UMG of ‘greed’ over artists

TikTok responded to UMG’s allegations on Wednesday.

“It is sad and disappointing that Universal Music Group has put their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters,” the company said in a statement.

“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 said it has been able to reach “artist-first agreements with every other label and publisher.”

Last year, the company signed a music licensing deal with Warner Music Group.

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