Universal Music to Cease Licensing Music to TikTok and Publicly Accuses the Platform; TikTok Responds

On Tuesday, Universal Music Group warned that it would remove its songs from TikTok due to the failure to agree on a new licensing contract. Surprisingly, Universal Music claimed that the company’s decision to part ways with TikTok was not only due to the disagreement on the renewal price, but also the divergence in attitudes towards artificial intelligence.

Universal Music previously reached a licensing agreement with TikTok in February 2021, which is set to expire this February. In its announcement, Universal Music accused TikTok of “trying to build a music-based business without paying a reasonable price for the music.” Universal Music emphasized that its analysis found that “most of the content on TikTok” contains music, more than other social networks, while TikTok only accounts for 1% of Universal Music’s revenue.

“TikTok tried to coerce us into accepting a deal worth less than the previous deal, far below the fair market value, and it does not reflect their exponential growth,” Universal Music wrote.

Universal Music stated in the letter that its disagreements with TikTok mainly focus on three key issues: compensation for artists, protecting human artists from the “harmful effects” of artificial intelligence, and the online safety of TikTok users. Universal Music said, “The compensation ratio that TikTok proposes to pay our artists and songwriters is only a small part of other similar social platforms.”

Universal Music further claimed in the statement, “In terms of artificial intelligence, TikTok allows the platform to be filled with AI-generated recordings, while developing tools to support, promote and encourage AI music creation on the platform, and then requests a contractual right to allow these contents to massively dilute the royalty pool of human artists, which is equivalent to supporting the replacement of artists with artificial intelligence.” Universal Music also accused, “TikTok has made almost no effort to deal with the massive amount of content on its platform that infringes our artists’ music, nor has it provided meaningful solutions to the increasing content adjacency issues, not to mention the wave of hate speech, paranoia, bullying, and harassment on the platform. The only feasible way to remove infringing or problematic content (such as pornographic DeepFake of artists) is through an extremely cumbersome and inefficient process, which is equivalent to a digital version of “whack-a-mole” game.

In a statement Tuesday evening, TikTok responded, “Universal Music Group puts its own greed above the interests of artists and songwriters, which is sad and disappointing,” and claimed that Universal Music “chose to leave the strong support of a platform with over 1 billion users, a free promotion and discovery tool for their talent.”

Universal Music is one of the largest music companies in the world, with artists including superstars Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Justin Bieber, Adele, Elton John, and Bob Dylan.

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