The world’s biggest music company, Universal Music, is set to pull millions of songs from TikTok after a breakdown in talks over overpayments. The move would mean the social media site owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance would no longer have access to songs by artists including Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, and Drake. In a blistering open letter, UMG accused the platform of “bullying” and said it wanted to pay a “fraction” of the rate other social media sites do to access its vast catalog. The company also claimed that the app was promoting AI-generated music and making little effort to deal with vast numbers of content that infringes on artists’ work.
But TikTok defended itself, saying it was “disappointed” that the two sides could not reach a new deal and accusing Universal of presenting a “false narrative and rhetoric.” It pointed out that the music industry association MIDiA’s survey had found that TikTok was the second most popular source of music discovery for teens and that it pays the same royalty rates as YouTube and other primary streaming services. It added that it had a licensing agreement with the other two major music labels, Sony and Warner Music, which had yet to be pulled from the app.
TikTok, whose users number more than one billion, is a popular video editing app that allows users to make short-form videos that can be soundtracked with licensed music. Its popularity among younger generations has helped drive a boom in music streaming, driving overall record industry revenues. However, the app has also been controversial over its data protection policies and privacy practices.
The latest dispute between TikTok and Universal Music results from a breakdown in negotiations over how much the app should pay for the right to use licensed music in its users’ videos. The music giant’s current contract with TikTok, which covers many famous artists, including Taylor Swift, Bad Bunny, the Weeknd, and Alicia Keys, is set to expire on Wednesday.
UMG’s letter accused the app of trying to “bully” it into accepting a deal worth less than its previous agreement and removing the music of some of its developing artists. It also claimed that TikTok was promoting AI-generated music and making it easy for its users to create videos with automated lyrics.
Universal’s Australian operation locally represents homegrown stars, including Tame Impala, Missy Higgins, Baker Boy, Tkay Maidza, and Peach PRC, who recently topped the ARIA Charts with her debut album. Universal Music Australia CEO Annabelle Herd said the platform was ” responsible for supporting our artists’ growth.”
While TikTok is the largest global music platform, it makes up only about 1% of Universal’s total revenue, the company says. But the firm says protecting its artists and fighting for fair conditions is essential. Universal shares were down 2% in early trading on Tuesday.