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Universal Music Group said Wednesday it would stop licensing its music to TikTok and accused the short-form video giant of bullying and intimidation in its contract negotiations.
A music licensing deal between UMG, owned by Chinese tech giant Byte Dance, and TikTok expired on Wednesday, and no new terms have been agreed upon. This means UMG can pull its music catalog from TikTok.
In an open letter published Wednesday, UMG said it was pressing TikTok during contract discussions — “appropriate compensation for our artists and songwriters, protection of human artists from the harmful effects of AI, and online safety for TikTok's users.”
The music label, which represents megastars from Taylor Swift to Drake, said TikTok proposed paying its artists and songwriters “a fraction of what major social platforms pay.” UMG said that despite the social network's “large and growing user base, rapidly increasing ad revenue and increasing reliance on music-based content”, only 1% of its total revenue comes from TikTok.
UMG also accused TikTok of allowing its platform to be “populated with AI-generated recordings”, as well as creating tools to “enable, encourage and promote AI music creation”. According to UMG, TikTok is seeking a contractual right that would allow this content to massively dilute the royalty pool for human artists.
The music industry is grappling with the rise of artificial intelligence, which can create music and mimic the voices of major artists.
UMG also said TikTok makes little effort to deal with the vast amount of content on its platform that “transcends artists' music.”
The label accused TikTok of bullying and intimidation tactics in contract negotiations.
“When we proposed that TikTok, like our other platform partners, take action to resolve these issues, they responded first with indifference and then with intimidation,” UMG said.
“As our negotiations continued, Tiktok tried to intimidate us into accepting a deal that was worth less than the previous deal, far below fair market value and not reflective of their exponential growth. How did it try to intimidate us? Some of our budding artists will have global stars on stage driving our audience.
TikTok responded to UMG's allegations on Wednesday.
“It is sad and disappointing that Universal Music Group has put their own greed above the interests of their artists and songwriters,” the company said in a statement.
“Despite Universal's false narrative and rhetoric, they have chosen to walk away from the powerful support of a platform with over a billion users that serves as a free advertising and discovery vehicle for their talent.”
TikTok said it was able to reach “artist-first deals with every label and publisher”.
Last year, the company signed a music licensing deal with Warner Music Group.