The label that represents Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, and Ariana Grande, Universal Music Group (UMG), has announced that it will remove its music from TikTok tomorrow at midnight due to an unsatisfactory royalties agreement with the platform’s parent business, ByteDance.
UMG intends to stop licensing material to TikTok and its music-focused service, TikTok Music, and will not pursue extending its current agreement with the platform, which is scheduled to expire on January 31.
UMG accused TikTok in a news statement of attempting to create a “music-based business without paying fair value for [artists’] music.” TikTok is said to have generated close to $20 billion in income from ads last year.
“TikTok suggested compensating our musicians and artists at a rate that is a small portion of what other major social media platforms that are in comparable situations pay,” the label stated. “TikTok accounts for only about 1% of our total revenue today, which is an indication of how little the platform pays artists and songwriters, despite its massive and growing user base, rapidly rising advertising revenue, and increasing reliance on music-based content.”
A request for comment from TikTok was not immediately answered. However, a spokesman sent the following comment via email later that evening:
“It’s sad and disappointing that Universal Music Group has put their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters. 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 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.”
According to UMG’s news statement, TikTok and the company didn’t agree on how much to charge for recordings made by AI that were made utilizing UMG assets. Furthermore, according to UMG, TikTok was failing to act appropriately to quickly delete content that violated the label’s copyright.
UMG stated, “TikTok is ultimately attempting to develop a music-based business, without paying fair value for the music.”
The current agreement between UMG and TikTok was signed in 2021 and includes recorded music from composers connected to Universal Music Publishing Group as well as artists signed to UMG’s labels. UMG and TikTok agreed to test out new features as part of the agreement, such as letting users add music videos from UMG’s extensive collection, which includes songs by Bad Bunny, SZA, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Harry Styles, Justin Bieber, Adele, U2, and Elton John.
The dispute with UMG arises when TikTok becomes more involved in the production and curation of music.
The platform is presenting TikTok Music—which debuted in a few regions last year—as a formidable competitor to Apple Music and Spotify. In the meanwhile, TikTok is testing a tool called “AI Song,” which leverages AI to compose music in response to user-inputted requests.
Although TikTok has demonstrated a willingness to work with labels on terms that suit it, the platform hasn’t been afraid to exert influence when it feels like it. According to reports, the company was in talks for a share of its ad revenues with Warner Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, and UMG “all year” in 2022 and 2023. Major record labels’ music was taken off from TikTok’s site for a portion of Australian users in February of last year, ostensibly as a test to see how it might affect user engagement.
Lately, TikTok has been attempting to sign exclusive distribution agreements with musicians for SoundOn, a ByteDance service that delivers music directly to TikTok and other streaming platforms. Additionally, it has introduced a program called Elevate, which aims to find the next generation of up-and-coming musicians.