Universal Music Group (UMG), one of the “big three” music companies representing prominent artists such as Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Drake and The Weeknd, has made the decision to completely remove its music catalog from TikTok. This comes as a result of the expiration of the licensing contract between UMG and TikTok, which the two companies failed to renew amidst disagreements over terms.
What Happened to Videos Already Posted?
For TikTok videos that had previously utilized songs belonging to UMG artists, the music has now been muted but the videos themselves remain visible on the platform. There is an indication notifying users that the music in question is no longer available. Users have the option to replace the UMG music with songs from other catalogs if they wish to restore audio to impacted past posts.
UMG’s Stated Issues with TikTok’s Practices
In an open letter published online, UMG publicly outlined the three critical concerns that led to the decision to cut ties:
- Inadequate compensation rates paid to UMG artists and songwriters compared to similarly massive social media platforms
- TikTok’s alleged embracing of AI-generated musical content, which threatens to undermine human artists’ creative rights and dilute royalties
- Failure to meaningfully address copyright infringement, hate speech, bullying and harassment occurring widely on the platform
As for compensation, UMG accused TikTok of proposing artist royalty rates amounting to a mere fraction of what comparable top social apps pay, despite an explosively growing user base, skyrocketing ad revenues and increasing dependence on music-centered content.
On the AI front, UMG called out TikTok for purportedly developing tools to create and promote AI-created recordings, thereby enabling the replacement of human creativity with algorithms – and demanding that this AI-music be allowed to massively reduce the royalty pool left for actual musicians and songwriters who rely on income from their work.
Lastly, UMG highlighted TikTok’s lack of concrete solutions to tackle inappropriate or outright illegal user content, apart from the rising tide of hate speech, bigotry, bullying, and harassment on the platform.
UMG stated that as negotiations continued, TikTok responded with an even lower financial offer than before, and targeted removal of developing artists’ music while retaining globally recognized stars – leaving UMG leadership feeling “bullied” into accepting an unfair deal.
Ultimately UMG pulled its catalog “to fight for its artists and stand up for the value of music”.
TikTok quickly fired back by accusing UMG of prioritizing “greed” above artists’ interests in walking away from the platform’s promotional benefits. The company also stated that it has been able to reach ‘artist-first’ agreements with every other label and publisher, and that UMG’s actions are self-serving and are not in the best interests of artists, songwriters, and fans.
The back-and-forth highlights ongoing debates around properly compensating artists on digital platforms even as their work fuels viral popularity. With both sides clinging to their positions, over a billion TikTok users now lose access to UMG’s enormous catalog of hits for the foreseeable future.
Emman has been writing technical and feature articles since 2010. Prior to this, he became one of the instructors at Asia Pacific College in 2008, and eventually landed a job as Business Analyst and Technical Writer at Integrated Open Source Solutions for almost 3 years.