Taylor Swift, Drake, and Others Could Vanish from TikTok as UMG Deal Hangs by a Thread

In a high-stakes standoff, Universal Music Group threatens to pull its star-studded catalog from TikTok, citing unfair licensing terms, concerns over AI, and artist compensation, sparking a heated dispute that could reshape the music industry’s future and the role of social media in artist discovery.

Music Giant’s Ultimatum: UMG Threatens TikTok with a Breakup Over Licensing Dispute

Universal Music Group, the powerhouse behind renowned artists like Taylor Swift, Drake, Olivia Rodrigo, Kendrick Lamar, and Billie Eilish, has issued a firm warning to TikTok, stating that it will remove its music from the platform if they fail to reach a new licensing agreement.

In an open letter published online on Tuesday evening, the world’s largest music company expressed its concern over the imminent expiration of its current contract with TikTok and accused the social media platform, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, of responding with either “indifference” or “intimidation” on three critical matters: fair compensation for artists and songwriters, safeguarding human artists from the potentially harmful effects of artificial intelligence (AI), and ensuring online safety for TikTok users. UMG made it clear that without a new deal in place after January 31st, they will cease to license their content to TikTok and its music services.

The open letter shed light on TikTok’s proposed payment rate, which UMG deemed as significantly lower than what other major social platforms offer to similarly positioned artists and songwriters. UMG highlighted the fact that, despite TikTok’s massive and growing user base, rapidly increasing advertising revenue, and reliance on music-based content, the platform only contributes approximately 1% to their total revenue.

The letter stated, “Ultimately, TikTok is trying to build a music-based business without paying fair value for the music,” accusing TikTok of attempting to strong-arm UMG into accepting an even less favorable deal than before. UMG further alleged that TikTok was selectively removing the music of certain emerging artists while retaining the content of their globally recognized stars, which they described as a bullying tactic.

The Battle Over Music’s Future: TikTok vs. Universal Music Group’s AI and Artist Rights Clash

UMG firmly declared, “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.”

Additionally, UMG called out TikTok for allowing the platform to be saturated with AI-generated recordings and developing tools that promote and encourage AI music creation. UMG criticized TikTok’s response to AI, referring to it as “nothing short of sponsoring artist replacement by AI.”

Conversely, UMG has taken a cautious yet active approach to AI music. They have partnered with YouTube to launch an AI incubator and have licensed music for Dream Track, an experimental AI song generator. UMG has also taken legal action against AI-generated songs created without proper licenses, including a lawsuit against AI company Anthropic.

In response to UMG’s open letter, TikTok released a statement online, accusing UMG officials of prioritizing their own greed over the interests of their artists and songwriters. TikTok claimed that UMG’s narrative was false and emphasized that their platform, boasting well over a billion users, serves as a free promotional and discovery vehicle for Universal’s talent. TikTok further pointed out that they had successfully reached “artist-first” agreements with every other label and publisher, implying that UMG’s actions were not aligned with what is best for artists, songwriters, and fans.

Over the past five years, TikTok has emerged as a powerful music marketing tool within the music industry. It has propelled the careers of aspiring artists, transformed viral songs into chart-topping hits, and even rejuvenated older catalog tracks, putting them back on the Billboard charts. Numerous chart-topping singles, including Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road,” Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage,” Doja Cat’s “Paint The Town Red,” and SZA’s “Kill Bill,” owe their success to TikTok’s influence.

In fact, TikTok’s impact has influenced how artists release music, leading to the release of faster and slower remixes of tracks to cater to the platform’s viral video trend.

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