TikTok Pulls Music From Taylor Swift, Drake, & More As Universal Music Group Deal Expires

Universal Music Group, which includes Taylor Swift, Drake, BTS, Bad Bunny, Ariana Grande, Olivia Rodrigo, Billie Eilish, Justin Bieber, Karol G, and many other artists, announced that it had failed to reach a new licensing agreement with TikTok, resulting in the removal of the company's entire catalog from videos used on the app.

The existing licensing agreement between UMG and TikTok officially expires on January 31, 2024. The previous day, the music giant issued an open letter informing artists that their renewal negotiations had failed, 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.

TikTok has gradually established itself as a vital participant in music promotion, but this could change. Billboard reports that TikTok and UMG's previous license agreement included both recorded music and publishing rights. "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," according to the music website.

As K-pop fans may recall, last year, a slew of songs by Korean singers vanished from Spotify's streaming repertoire without warning after the streamer's global licensing agreement expired, similar to what occurred to UMG's catalog on TikTok. According to Wired, UMG's failure to reach a new agreement with TikTok has had an impact on both new and old videos, with any footage containing UMG music being retrospectively erased.

"Our artists and songwriters' music has helped TikTok become one of the world's top social networks. Its senior executives proudly proclaim publicly that'music is at the heart of the TikTok experience', and our data indicates that the bulk of TikTok content incorporates music, more than any other major social network," according to UMG's open letter.

The company, which is the world's largest recording company, stated that despite the undeniable exposure, "TikTok accounts for only about 1% of [UMG's] total revenue" and concluded that "ultimately TikTok is trying to build a music-based business, without paying fair value for the music." In the open letter, UMG states that it presented TikTok remedies to all of the issues listed above, but they were treated with "indifference" and "intimidation."

"As our negotiations progressed, TikTok attempted to coerce us into accepting a settlement that was significantly lower than fair market value and did not reflect their exponential growth. How did it attempt to intimidate us? UMG argues that by deliberately eliminating the music of certain of its developing artists while leaving audience-driving global stars on the site. "TikTok's tactics are clear: use its platform dominance to harm vulnerable artists and frighten us into agreeing to a terrible arrangement that undervalues music and exploits artists, composers, and fans. We will never do that. We will continue to fight for our artists and composers, as well as the creative and commercial value of music.

In a response statement, TikTok chastised UMG for its "false narrative and rhetoric" just hours after the company's open letter was published. "It is sad and disappointing that Universal Music Group has put their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters," the statement said. "The truth is that they have chosen to withdraw 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 successfully reached 'artist-first' agreements with every other label and publisher. Clearly, Universal's self-serving tactics do not benefit artists, songwriters, or fans.

UMG responded against TikTok on February 1, publishing 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 Universal Music Group told the publication. "TikTok did not even attempt to address the other concerns we raised about harmful AI and platform safety." It's no surprise that artist rights supporters are rallying in support of our move."

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